Sunday, 20 January 2013

Benjamin Britten: Our Greatest

Britten was homosexual, but in all external respects he comported himself like a respectable tweedy middle-class bachelor of a liberal persuasion. Aside from his stubborn but undoctrinaire pacifism, he was conventional in his habits, manners and dress. Competitive and athletic, he was head boy and Victor Ludorum at school. He drove fast cars fast, played a mean game of tennis and enjoyed freezing seawater dips and hearty roast lunches...
Britten’s one-time assistant Colin Matthews also identified in the composer an unsophisticated reaction to his own sexuality. He never made gay jokes or inferences, nor did he even use the word “gay”; he disliked socialising with gay couples, and was initially aghast at the idea of wearing checked trousers. 

From the Telegraph, who are going big on Benjamin Britten's centenary, and are currently serialising Paul Kildea's biography (Its big scoop is a somewhat speculative claim syphilis may have contributed to his death).
It's tricky terrain, as it's nigh on impossible to write about the man - "our greatest composer" - without mentioning that he had a thing about boys, and how the late "national treasure" was a notorious pederast.
As Richard Morrison writes in a thoughtful piece in The Times; "Yet this enormous celebration only compounds an enormous problem for Britten’s champions. Coming so soon after the revelation of the serial child abuse inflicted by Jimmy Savile, it forces them to confront the ugly elephant in the room. The composer himself was, at least technically, a paedophile.
Not a predatory sexual one, perhaps. But a platonic paedophile, certainly. He adored the company of boys."

Here's The Sunday Telegraph's Rupert Christiansen; "His emotional focus was a loving if occasionally scratchy marriage to the tenor Peter Pears, for whom he wrote much of his greatest music, but his life was also marked by a series of intimate relationships with pubescent boys.
This has caused much anxiety among both his admirers and detractors, but as a sensitive study of the matter by John Bridcut recently revealed, these relationships were pseudo-paternal and involved no genital contact. It seems rather that in some respects Britten remained a prep-school boy himself, and that his fondness for other prep-school boys was what modern jargon describes as “being in touch with your inner child”.

Okay. But post-Savilegate, this year expect more of the hysterical tone set out by The Daily Mail; DG's little Britten headache: RICHARD KAY asks whether BBC will acknowledge late composer's obsession with young boys 

• Britten 100 website 

Update: Britten syphilis claims 'ludicrous' - The Guardian

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