Situated at the intersections of twentieth-century music history, historiography, and aesthetics, Middlebrow Modernism uses Benjamin Britten’s operas to illustrate the ways in which composers, critics, and audiences mediated the “great divide” between modernism and mass culture. Reviving mid-century discussions of the middlebrow, Christopher Chowrimootoo demonstrates how Britten’s works allowed audiences to have their modernist cake and eat it: to revel in the pleasures of consonance, lyricism, and theatrical spectacle even while enjoying the prestige that came from rejecting them. By focusing on moments when reigning aesthetic oppositions and hierarchies threatened to collapse, this study offers a powerful model for recovering shades of grey in the traditionally black-and-white historiographies of twentieth-century music.
“Christopher Chowrimootoo’s exhaustively researched and elegantly written study deftly charts a course to the ambivalent heart of postwar modernism. He invites us to listen anew, offering provocative reinterpretations not just of Britten’s operas, but of a range of figures from Sibelius to Boulez.” ARMAN SCHWARTZ, author of Puccini’s Soundscapes
“Ranging widely across literary, theatrical, musical, and religious debates, Christopher Chowrimootoo traces how modernist values were negotiated in everyday critical practice. In the process, he offers sophisticated and compelling new readings of Britten’s operas, showing us how they register twentieth-century art’s paradoxical position in a market-driven society.” HEATHER WIEBE, author of Britten’s Unquiet Pasts
“In a virtuoso deconstruction, Chowrimootoo shows that middlebrow modernism is anything but peripheral. At the same time, this middlebrow center gets teased apart, becoming anything but middle. All the while, the swift prose is a pleasure, the intelligence crackling, the capacious readings of Britten’s operas indispensable.” SETH BRODSKY, author of From 1989, or European Music and the Modernist Unconscious
CHRISTOPHER CHOWRIMOOTOO is Assistant Professor in the Program of Liberal Studies and in the Department of Music at the University of Notre Dame.
Chowrimootoo, C. 2018. Middlebrow Modernism: Britten’s Operas and the Great Divide. California: University of California Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/luminos.57
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