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Commentary on Rob Barnett's biography of Benjamin Britten
The original biography

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 approval.

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




Rob Barnett’s article on Britten should be withdrawn from the site.

It is rife with errors and serves only to demean the website ( 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 is endless.

And so, the first page has two major errors.

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. Schoenberg’s is.

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 Britten.

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 could not.

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 so far.

page 4. Mr Barnett should explain the alleged restrictions why RCM refused Britten to study with Berg. The facts are completely different.

page 5 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.

page 5. 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 Britten.

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 it.

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 living 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. Faber 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 above.

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 (a reference to David Wright) 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 very juvenile and it cannot compare with Bartok, Tippet and Bliss. Their command of the string orchestra is commendable. Britten’s is not.

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 wrote!"

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, " I 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 got!"

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 et al.

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?

Since 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 to air 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

Jonathan Woolf

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.

Martin Walker

* All David Wright's articles have since been removed from MusicWeb.

I have not yet read the biography, only Wright/Harrison's response to it. Those comments show their author to be a illiterate, homophobic, ninny.
I like Rob's reviews -- the material he covers and the way he writes.

Long live Rob and MusicWeb. Hurrah!

John Hill

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.

Don Satz

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.

Derek Adlam

I'm not altogether certain whether or not to thank you for posting
Professor J. Harrison's truly vile, unbelievably stupid screed about
Britten. Of what is Harrison a professor? Is he still walking the
streets free? It's a useful article, I suppose, in that it shows the depths to
which some people will go to malign an enduring composer. Its ineptitude,
its obsessiveness, its assumption that opinions, phobias and jealousy all
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!

Dave Frieze



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