Ahead of the Britten centennial, the smut-stirrers are hard at work. A Daily Wail columnist has been asking, with all the usual huff of manufactured indignation, whether the BBC will ‘acknowledge’ the great composer’s ‘obsession’ with young boys’. Other hacks will follow that selfsame well-worn tabloid line unless the issue is laid to rest before Britten-100 begins.
The facts of Britten’s friendships with boys have been thoroughly researched and laid out in Humphrey Carpenter’s biography – and Humphrey was, for most of his life, a BBC programme maker. So, yes, Daily Mail, the BBC has acknowledged it.
They were even more comprehensively laid out in John Bridcut’s Britten’s Children. John, too, is a BBC programme maker.
Britten formed many friendships with young boys and was probably attracted to them sexually. Nothing untoward ever came to pass. No boy had cause for complaint. Many have spoken out in gratitude for his kindness and concern. No child was harmed in the making of Benjamin Britten.
In my monthly essay in Standpoint, I argue that we need to look at Britten from a different perspective – not just as a breakthrough (though, it must be said, variable) composer, but as a public benefactor who, from his earliest successes, turned his earnings and his fame to the advancement of musical education and the assistance of other, struggling composers.
Few composers in history have put back in more than they took out. Britten’s generosity is unmatched. He deserves a statue in an arts centre, like London’s South Bank, not a slew of uncontested tabloid slurs. Read the Standpoint essay here.
As if to underline my point, two British composers scored massive triumphs this month on the world stage – Thomas Ades at the Metropolitan Opera with the Tempest and George Benjamin at Netherlands Opera with Written on Skin. Both benefited from Britten largesse. Both are published by the imprint that Britten founded. Both are proof that no composer is an island. Creative work flourishes in a place of precedence. Britten made it possible for his successors to be great. His private life is, thanks to Carpenter and Bridcut, an open book. Nothing to hide. End of story.