1913-1976

Pictured with Peter Pears

"It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness and of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony."

Britten's homosexuality was, for virtually all his life, criminal. The pressure to hide sexual longing and infatuation, as well as the cruelty and alienation he experienced as an outsider, manifested in brilliant music and psychologically compelling operas. The conflict between his homosexuality and the hostile society he found himself in was the source of his dramatic music; more patently so than is the case of, say, Tchaikovsky. So many of the plots of his operas involve loners, outsiders and misfits in communities determined to point the finger at them, and it's no surprise that he tended to gravitate toward collaborators like W. H. Auden and E. M. Forster, who were also gay. Maybe it was exquisite agony for him to pursue these themes (the probing of emotional bruises might even have brought on an early death), yet this was as much part of the creative process as the learning of harmony and counterpoint. Without it he wouldn't have been Benjamin Britten. [link]

Britten studying music on a couch, with Peter Pears studying over his shoulder