Academic Research
Sea Changes book cover

In 2011 I completed my Ph.D. on E.M. Forster's librettistic work for Benjamin Britten's opera "Billy Budd" (1951/1961) at Kassel University. The opera is based on a novella by Herman Melville; the libretto was written by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier in close collaboration with the composer.

My study Sea-changes: Melville – Forster – Britten. The story of Billy Budd and its operatic adaptation was published in December 2012 by Universitätsverlag Göttingen. It is available on the publisher's website as an Open Access pdf and it can also be ordered there in book form.

In my study I investigate the ways in which Forster was able to take possession of Melville’s story and characters in order to express some of his own central artistic and personal concerns. To this purpose I analyse the themes, character constellations and narrative patterns which pervade Forster’s entire literary work as well as some of his (partly unpublished) private records and communications. I also provide detailed readings of a number of Forster’s fictional works, with a view to uncovering their parallels to the story of Billy Budd. In this way, I situate Forster's librettistic engagement with Billy Budd in the wider context of his own literary creativity, his life and his life writings. I also go some way towards answering the question, hitherto treated for the most part in a merely cursory fashion by scholarship, in how far perceived connections and affinities between Forsterian and Melvilleian thought might be responsible for the adaptation’s re-interpretation of its literary source.

Wolfgang Bröll: Man and Science
A Melvilleian vision
on a Göttingen street
(Wolf Bröll: "Man and Science")

Even though an analysis of the opera’s libretto and musical structure suggests that Forster and Britten were pursuing slightly different interpretations of Melville’s text, my analyses of Forster’s literary productions demonstrate that the ambivalences inherent in the musical structure need not be regarded as alien to the Forsterian creative imagination.

My detailed analyses of the libretto and composition drafts and of the voluminous correspondence between the three collaborators trace the development of the text and its characters, which is responsible for the adaptation’s emancipation from its literary source. I also re-examine the question of Forster’s and Britten’s respective influence on the final form and changed meaning of the opera adaptation. My findings allow me to throw a fresh light on the opera’s genesis and the process of its development.

My supervisor for this project was Prof. Dr. Daniel Göske (Kassel University).

I am grateful to Kassel University for funding my research with a two-year doctoral grant in 2005-2007.

Further research interests include:


Watercolour sketch: Marshes at Aldeburgh
Watercolour sketch:
Marshes at Aldeburgh (2002)


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