the dark side of britten


We are only two months into the Britten centenary year and already books, articles and talks (and, of course, performances) swell the flood of existing biographical studies and the six bulky volumes of diaries and letters. Dead for less than 40 years, Britten is as copiously documented as any English composer except Elgar. Have emails wiped out areas of research? I hope that some teenage composer, a latter-day Britten, is even now baring their musical soul writing candid and maybe scurrilous opinions on the current musical scene in a diary as the young Britten did from 1928. ‘The child is father to the man’ rings true in Britten’s case. Britten the man was a Jekyll and Hyde, with Hyde perhaps too often gaining the upper hand. The sophisticated judgments, often couched in schoolboyish jargon, tell us how Britten discovered music, not only by performing and by reading scores but also by attending concerts and listening avidly to the radio and recordings. As well as, of course, by composing ambitious works galore.

more from Michael Kennedy at The Spectator here.