Commentary on Rob Barnett's biography of Benjamin
In 1998 I asked Rob Barnett to
produce a detailed biography of Benjamin Britten for MusicWeb.This
was done in collaboration with Dr Jenny Doctor, a musicologist
at the Britten-Pears Library. On the article's appearance and
on a number of occasions since, Dr David Wright, a collaborator
on MusicWeb, and Linda Dowson, his friend, have called for its
removal and indeed the removal of Rob Barnett as Classical Editor
of MusicWeb for the sake of accuracy and the good name of the
site. At the same time Dr Wright has been very critical of
my policy of submitting his articles to Rob for his editorial
David Wright has now sent me a
list of comments on this article apparently made by Professor
J Harrison in 1999. These bear a remarkable similarity to the
criticisms that David Wright has been making over the years.
I have no intention of removing
Rob's article or of removing Rob as editor. He knows he has my
full support and that he is as important to the running of MusicWeb
as I am. Since the site's inception he has performed a sterling
service to the site and the cause of British music.
In an attempt to put a final closure
on these constant criticisms I have decided to publish Professor
Harrison's comments so that you can all form your own opinions.
Len Mullenger 2003
BRITTEN - ROB BARNETT'S ARTICLE
Rob Barnett’s article on Britten
should be withdrawn from the site.
It is rife with errors and serves
only to demean the website (www.musicweb-international.com) and discredit
those contributors who write accurate and revealing essays.
Let us list some of the errors,
mistakes and wrong emphasises
page 1. No one taught Ben anything.
But the reason should be given namely that Britten was arrogant
all his life and this set the tone for the fact that he could
never keep friends. He was a thug and bully at school and an emotional
thug all his life.
page 2. He was brought up completely
normally. Utter rubbish. For example, he hated his father
and made life hell for him. As with Elgar, Britten had no respect
for anyone except himself. He infuriated the Japanese with the
commission of the Sinfonia da Requiem. He grossly offended many
fine musicians and without cause or provocation-- Rawsthorne,
Rubbra, Searle, Walton, Norman Del Mar, Viola Tunnard, the list
And so, the first page has two
page 3. Bridge’s Piano Sonata
is not wonderful. It is an incoherent ramble. It is tedious and
does not go down well with the public. Obviously Mr Barnett is
not a pianist.
page 3. Bridge’s music ,
fine though some of it is, is not challenging.
page3. Although there are a few
good moments, Grimes is not Britten’s greatest work since he never
wrote a great work. Any work that sets forth the composers personal
pederastry is not worthy of greatness. The only people who would
applaud these work could be homosexuals and pederastrians or those
not concerned about moral standards and who do not think homosexuality
or paedophilia is wrong. Decent people would be embarrassed to
have any liking for such music.
page 3. The same applies to the
hideous Spring Symphony where the composer gets the boys to wolf
whistle, more sexual perversion.
page 3. Britten was not a pacifist.
He was a coward and unpatriotic.
page 3. Walton never envied Britten
and it is absurd to say that Walton emulated Britten in his Trolius
and Cressida. Mr Bamett has no idea what he is talking about.
These are blatant lies. Walton was a far greater composer than
page 3. Britten was not a brilliant
pianist. He never played in public any really difficult or awkward
piano parts. He never played a real concerto. If you can play
Brahms 1 or Rachmaninov 3 you are a brilliant pianist. Britten
page3 Britten did compose at the
piano. I saw him do it.
page3. Rattle’s performance of
Quatre Chansons Francaises is full of conducting errors. Why does
Mr Barnett not follow it in the score? Perhaps he is incompetent
at reading a score as he is at journalism.
Nine mistakes on page 3. Eleven
page 4. Mr Barnett should explain
the alleged restrictions why RCM refused Britten to study with
Berg. The facts are completely different.
Britten’s music has gained a quicker
and more enduring acceptance in many countries.
What drivel. He is the only composer
to have a work banned in the USA, namely the shocking Our Hunting
Fathers. As with Elgar, Britten was regularly booed in the Far
East, Japan in particular. The
Czechs and Hungarians hated his
music. Mr Barnett has fallen out of his tree again and talks more
rubbish. Vaughan Williams, a far greater composer, is the most
widely accepted British composer internationally.
Britten’s music has an internationally
accepted language and able to touch more easily on universal issues
with people across the world can identify.
This is such absolute rubbish. Critics and musicians all over
the world have put in print the exact opposite of what Mr Barnett
says. His statement seem to suggest that people universally accept
cowardice, conceit, homosexuality, paedophilia, insults to other
nations, egotism, megalomania and all the other things that were
page 5. The reference to Britten
and Britain is puerile, comic magazine material.
page 5. Britten loathed rows
and disagreements. This simply is not true. He was offensive
. He caused
rows constantly with publishers, performers and on time friends.
He was frog-marched out of his publishers twice. He ridiculed
Viola Tunnard’s cancer. He upset Walton demanding royalties from
Walton’s work on a theme of Britten. He told many men that they
had not lived unless they had buggered a boy. The events could
fill a large volume. He loved arguments and trouble and caused
page 5 His early and sustained
brilliance as a composer.... he was not a brilliant composer.
His Violin Concerto is an amalgam of other composer’s work thus
showing him as a cheat. The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
had dreadful mistakes in the original printed score which was
copied accurately from Britten’s manuscript including notes for
instruments that they could not get! Gloriana is a dreadful piece
and was called The Twilight of the Sods, the Sinfonia da requiem
was a slap in the face for the Japanese nation, Grimes, Billy
Budd, Death in Venice reeks of anal sex and the end of the War
Requiem is grossly offensive being a homosexual love duet with
Let us sleep now sung about 24 times in 4 minutes clearly an offer
for the two men to go to bed together and have anal sex. Britten
actually admitted this to us. Utterly repulsive and in a requiem!
Page 5 Britten was furtive about
his sexuality and tried to deny it with the setting of The Rape
of Lucretia. He was both devious and corrupt all his life. As
a homosexual he was a criminal in those days.
8 more mistakes on pages 4 and 5.
19 in all so far.
page 6. Britten ran away to the
USA because of cowardice. He only returned to the UK when the
US Army were to call up British people leaving in the USA. Before
he came back he made sure he and Pears had a job which was not
directly connected with the war and causes several people to have
the sack and be dismissed unfairly.
page 6. His extraordinary success
also bred envy. This is sheer fantasy. No one envied Britten.
Because he was loathsome people did not like him. One very famous
British composer summed it up by saying," Britten is no threat
but he is a great embarrassment."
page 6. He was objectionable to
Boosey and Hawkes complaining that they were printing Stravinsky
and Lully before him and that his work must always have priority.
page 6. Fabers did not always
show enthusiasm for publishing Britten’s music. In fact they had
many tussles with him because he was such a brat.
page 6. (Britten) was the envy
of composers everywhere. Utter nonsense. This has been explained
25 errors so far and we are only
on page 6.
page 7. The Simple Symphony
is not one of his best loved works. It is juvenile and not
well written and has boyhood sexual perversions within it.
page 7. Mr Barnett omits the torrid love affair
Britten had with Berkeley. Life long friendship is hardly the
right term and latterly Berkeley did not like Britten. Only Pears
did, and even Pears said that Britten was petulant and difficult.
page7. Britten was not a pacifist but a coward.
page 8. Our Hunting Fathers is,
without doubt, the worst score to come from a British composer.
It is not brilliant. It does not show mastery. It has the impact
of disgust. It is about bestiality which Britten admitted later
in life. It is about buggery and the awful sounds the singer makes
represents orgasm, a man getting off with anal sex with an animal!
Totally repulsive! Britten said that bestiality was the natural
progression of homosexuality.
page 8. Vaughan Williams’s Five
Tudor Portraits is a fine piece. This is Mr Barnett’s second swipe
at VW showing a sense of his paranoid and unfair comparison. He
complains about another writer to the site having swipes at composers
and states it is wrong but he does it himself and to VW!
page 8. Pears did not have a good
voice. It was too nasal and lacked colour and expression although
he was versatile. It was not a voice with quality. More rubbish
from Mr Barnett.
page 8. The Variations on a theme
of Frank Bridge is not a masterpiece. If it were we would be putting
it in the same league as Bartok’s Music for strings celesta and
percussion, Bliss’s Music for strings, Tippett’s Concerto for
double sring orchestra and so on. Britten’s work is still vety
juvenile and it cannot compare with Bartok, Tippet and Bliss.
Their command of the string orchestra is commendable. Britten’s
page 8. How dare Mr Barnett compare
the Walton Violin Concerto with Britten’s. Britten’s concerto
is vast collection of deliberate plagiarisms. If Mr Barnett knew
anything about music he would know this. As one violinist said,
"The best bit about the Britten concerto is the bit Prokofiev
page 9. Britten was not a reliable
composer. Nor was his business-like. He was ruthless and a dishonest
businessman. He met deadlines by shortening the music.
page 9. Mr Barnett says Britten
was extraordinary productive wring up to 30 pages of full score
in a day. Wellesz and Alan Bush did 60, Searle 50, Elizabeth Lutyens
was even quicker!
page 9 Britten did not endear himself
to people. As further examples to those quoted before he fell
out with the management at Glyndebourne and angrily retorted,
will make a festival greater than yours and of Bayreuth!"
page 9. Auden was also homosexual
and also interested in bestiality. He was also a coward not wishing
to fight for his country.
page 9. Les illuminations is a
seriously flawed work although it has a few good moments
page 9. the Sinfonia da requiem
was commissioned by the Japanese and they stipulated no Christian
input or titles. Britten, as arrogant as was Elgar, refused. "Nobody
tells me what he do," he snapped. Also insincere is the dedication
to his parents. He hated his father. He told us so.
page 10. The Diversions for
piano (left hand) and orchestra is a work of alert brightness
and power. Is it? Wittgenstein said otherwise as have many
other distinguished pianists. Britten was trying to emulate Ravel
but there is no contest. Ravel was a good composer.
page 10. Britten’s off/on friendship
with Copland was because they were both homosexuals.
page 10. The Ballad for two
pianos and orchestra is an entertaining work and a stable mate
for Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain or John Foulds’s Dynamic
Triptych. More rubbish. The three works are diverse from each
other. The Ballad is also poorly written and this is why it is
seldom taken up.
page 11. Ceremony of Carols
a work of winsome beauty. What ridiculous language to employ,
so unmusical which leads me further to believe that Mr Barnett
is not a musician.
Page ll. This is the third time
Mr Barnett says Britten was a pacifist. He was a coward. Those
of us who knew him will testify to that.
page 11. The Serenade for tenor,
horn and string is a masterwork. The first song is passable
but the rest is tedious. It destroys the beauty of the English
verse. It is as unEnglish as Britten fleeing to the USA.
page 12. The audience’s reception
to the first night of Grimes was wonderful. Curious word. It was
nothing less than an outstanding world-league success. Are
we talking about football? Artistic clocks were reset.
What gobbledegook! High-Flame level. Call in the gas board!
I have spoken to those who were at the premiere who found it "sick",
"full of homosexual undertones", "sadism"
and so on. It is not about cruelty but perversion. The opera "did
not flow~~, was ~~incoherent" and "Unimaginative"
(Music critics of the time).
page 12. The Rape of Lucretia
was not suggested by Rudolp Byng but by Britten’s deceit in trying
to hide his criminal activities as a homosexual. Britten got Byng
to support the idea!
page 12. Britten was never nice
unless he wanted something. He really was a nasty piece of work.
page 13. The Aldeburgh was Britten’s
egotistic self-promotion in keeping with his Elgarian arrogance.
page 13. The Spring Symphony
is gripping and glistening. Is it? It is pederasty again with
boys whistling suggestively. Britten was fascinated by choirboys
and used to say that he went to church and employed boys choirs
"to see choirboys beautiful faces and what else they have
A paedophile is not only who sexually
abuses children but one who has a sexual interest in children.
Britten was a paedophile!
page 14 Return to England
page 14. Britten sucked up to
musicians all his life to get them to play his music. It was not
friendship but use and abuse. He did it to Richter, Shostakovich
page 15. The repetition of the
rubbish about Peter Grimes
page 15. The String Quartet no.
2 is hopelessly flawed.
page 15. The repetition of the
rubbish about Lucretia
page 16 The Young Person’s Guide
to the orchestra originally included notes for instruments which
could not get them!
page 16. The repetition of the
falsehoods about the hideous Spring Symphony
And so Britten was arrogant and
a thug. He hated his father, disrespected everyone, offended many
people . He
was a criminal, a pervert and a paedophile. He was a coward and
unpatriotic. He was an average pianist. One of his works, Our
Hunting Fathers was banned for years in the USA because of its
theme of bestiality. For years his music was hated in central
Europe and in the Far East. His music is often poor and flawed.
He stole music from other composers and passed it off as his own.
He was a crook. His music has been described by many as sterile.
In addition he was ruthless, crude and vulgar, a egotist and a
megalomaniac. He was devious and conceited and very insincere.
Channel Four produced a documentary
about Britten as the loathsome man he was with intelligent comments
from professional musicians as to the poor quality of his music.
Mr. Barnett is not only the author of this shocking
pack of lies but the classical editor of the wehsite. But, reading
his other articles, he needs his articles edited and corrected
by someone who is a musician and knows what they are talking about!
I do know that many read this article on the site
(in computer jargonese there are many hits on this piece) because
they cannot believe such lies are being written and perpetrated.
If the editor of the site is so incompetent is
there any hope for the site?
Such the publication of this article its integrity
has been questioned.
This article must be removed from the site.
Professor J. Harrison, 1999
Rob, I've just looked at the site properly and seen the astounding
Britten business. I don't know how long it's been posted but I'm
sure quite a few reviewers will have emailed you so I feel I should
simply say this;
1. I have never seen so much bestiality and buggery in one place
before, outside D H Lawrence - and maybe not even then. As a
psycho-sexual case study it makes sensational reading.
2. I'm sorry that such a demented piece should be associated
in any way with your article - but if it was thought necessary
it then I think res ipsa loquitur is as good a line as any
3. As for the ad hominen attacks on you I'm sure you must know
what I and all your reviewers feel about that kind of thing
4. The most important thing is that it didn't cost you any time
because trash like that gets in the way of reviewing
I am shocked at the online publication of this vicious farrago
of vituperation. "Rife with errors"? Tu quoque. Both
it and the "reviews" of the egregious Dr Wright are
riddled with sloppy English, to an extent that makes them almost
unreadable, also being full of meaningless repetition and non
sequiturs. In my opinion it should be removed from the site, together
with any other effusions by its onlie and proximate begetters,
if they are not indeed one and the same mentally challenged individual.
I should add that I am neither homosexual nor paederastic, nor
indeed bestially inclined, yet I love the music of Britten, which
I place some way above that of Walton, without feeling compelled
to deny that Britten had some very unpleasant characteristics
~ so did Wagner and other great composers. Doubtless Messrs Wright
and Harrison also excoriate writers like Thomas Mann in the homeopathic
exgurgitations of vitriol they indulge in at their boys' nights
out or in, but I doubt whether there are literary websites to
accommodate their obsessions.
I have not yet read the biography, only Wright/Harrison's response
to it. Those comments show their author to be a illiterate, homophobic,
I like Rob's reviews -- the material he covers and the way he
Long live Rob and MusicWeb. Hurrah!
I am amazed that any professor, in this case Mr. Harrison, could
write such a response to Rob's biography of Britten. First, Harrison's
comments clearly reveal that he is deathly afraid of any homosexual
tendencies he might possess. Second, his ranting about the low
merit of Britten's music is just an opinion that obviously gets
mixed in with his hatred of Britten as a homosexual. However,
the worst aspect of Harrison's diatribe is that he presents subjective
matters as if they were truly objective and can be measured.
When comparing Harrison to Britten, Harrison appears to be the
more obnoxious and harmful to society.
Who is this Prof. J. Harrison, and who is David Wright? What
appears above is so rabidly homophobic and inflammatory as to
be beneath contempt. All these criticisms of Britten's music (with
a side-swipe at Frank Bridge, an interesting composer and important
teacher) are shaped and coloured by their judgement and opinion
of his personality; they cannot be called music criticism -- they
are simply prejudiced, destructive attacks.
We all know that Britten was a complex, egocentric, difficult
and troubled man. It is not the first time that an artist has
been so. To anyone with ears to hear, we also know that he was
a composer of genius and a wonderful pianist, particularly in
chamber music and as a Lieder accompanist. The extent to which
his music was shaped by his psychological makeup is a matter for
critical consideration, not prejudiced hysteria.
Comments on Britten and his music as they appear above are demeaning
to the writers, and contribute nothing to our knowledge of an
important figure in the history of 20th century British music
and musical life. Anyone believing and writing such stuff should
feel ashamed of themselves -- they certainly cannot be considered
serious musical commentators.
I'm not altogether certain whether or not to thank you for posting
Professor J. Harrison's truly vile, unbelievably stupid screed
Britten. Of what is Harrison a professor? Is he still walking
free? It's a useful article, I suppose, in that it shows the depths
which some people will go to malign an enduring composer. Its
its obsessiveness, its assumption that opinions, phobias and jealousy
qualify as "facts" - there are certainly worse things
available on the
Internet, I guess, although not on this website.
Still, as an object lesson, it's a pip! I'm sorry you and Rob
have to put
up with such garbage. Keep up the good work!