Original Research

The musical magic of ambiguity in Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice

B.M. Spies
Literator | Vol 22, No 3 | a369 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v22i3.369 | © 2001 B.M. Spies | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 August 2001 | Published: 13 June 2001

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B.M. Spies, Faculty of Arts: Music, Potchefstroom University for CHE, South Africa

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This essay investigates the blurred musical significations in Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice, an opera based on Thomas Mann’s important novella Der Tod in Venedig. The discussion of multiple meanings links up with two categories of ambiguity as set out by William Empson in his Seven Types of Ambiguity, that is two or more meanings which do not agree among themselves, but combine to make clear a more complicated state of mind, and two opposite meanings that show a fundamental division in the mind of the protagonist. It is indicated how this opera, as a story through music, portrays the physical and moral decay of the anti-hero, Gustav von Aschenbach, who enters the opera as a celebrated, worldrenowned writer.


Ambiguity; Benjamin Britten; Death In Venice; Thomas Mann


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