A Tale of Two Phaedras: An Examination of Benjamin Britten’s and George Rochberg’s Settings of Phaedra for Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra



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In 1976 composers Benjamin Britten and George Rochberg premiered separate works titled Phaedra. Both composers adapted Robert Lowell’s verse translation of Jean Racine’s Phèdre into settings for solo Mezzo-Soprano and orchestra; this coincidence, however, has been overlooked. This dissertation explores the genesis of each work and how each composer independently arrived at such a similar concept. Both compositions thus far have received limited scholarship and analysis. In the case of Britten’s Phaedra, I propose that it should be understood in the context of his operatic works, rather than that of a cantata or final small composition by a composer near death and provide an analysis as such. Rochberg’s Phaedra has thus far yet to be studied, I have given the work an initial analysis and propose the work be further studied since Rochberg ascribes the work great personal meaning in his autobiography, despite its relative obscurity. The coincidental similarity also allows me to make comparisons to Britten’s and Rochberg's contrasting composition styles.