Benjamin Britten’s ‘Spider and the Fly’ number from his Suite for “Johnson over Jordan”, by J.B. Priestley, takes you by surprise. It sounds like Gershwin at the start, then becomes a kind of danse, and is ultimately sinister. The composer meant it like that, for he was drawn to Priestley’s play because it concerns life after death; and Britten was interested in life after death during this period of his career.

Priestley broke an English taboo, you might say — but it’s a taboo in our country, also, in practice — in his 1939 reflection on purgatory, and salvation, which…

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