Brett, Philip 1937-2002

views updated

BRETT, Philip 1937-2002

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born October 17, 1937, in Edwinstowe, England; died October 16, 2002, in Los Angeles, CA. Musicologist, educator, and author. Brett is credited with bringing an awareness to musical scholars of the importance of sexual identity in the works of musical composers. A graduate of King's College, Cambridge, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1965, he was an assistant lecturer at Cambridge before joining the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley in 1966 as a music professor. During the 1960s, as people became more aware of the issue of homosexuality, Brett spent a period of self-examination that led to his realization that he was gay. He then began to wonder about the sexual orientation of various musical composers and how this affected their works. Of great interest to him was the English composer Benjamin Britten, who was known to many to be homosexual although the issue was never openly discussed. When Brett published a paper about Britten and the influence of his homosexuality on his opera Peter Grimes it caused a great deal of controversy in the musical community. Despite suffering some criticism for this piece, however, Brett held on to his post at the university and built a reputation for writings now classified as the "new musicology," the branch of study that links music with feminism, homosexuality, and other gender and ethnic issues. Brett edited numerous books on the subject, including Benjamin Britten: "Peter Grimes" (1983) and the coedited book Cruising the Performative: Interventions into the Representation of Ethnicity, Nationality, and Sexuality (1995). He also contributed scholarly essays to journals and music encyclopedias and was general editor of The Byrd Edition. In 1991 Brett left Berkeley to join the faculty of the University of California at Riverside; in 2001 he moved to the University of California, Los Angeles. In addition to his teaching and writing, Brett was also a musician, playing the harpsichord and a type of Renaissance organ; he received a Grammy nomination in 1991 for a recording of his performance of "Susanna" by Handel.



Directory of American Scholars, tenth edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.

Who's Who in Entertainment, third edition, Marquis (New Providence, NJ), 1997.


Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2002, p. B22.

Times (London, England), November 4, 2002.

About this article

Brett, Philip 1937-2002

Updated About content Print Article