Britten biographer maintains syphilis claim despite conclusive evidence

Britten biographer maintains syphilis claim despite conclusive evidence


norman lebrecht

October 29, 2014

Dr Michael Petch, a member of Britten’s medical team after his 1973 heart operation, has written in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine that syphilis was ‘very much in the minds’ of his clinicians and that ‘we found no evidence’.

End of subject, you’d think.

Think again.

Paul Kildea, the official Britten-Pears Foundation biographer, continues to maintain his preposterous claim that Britten had the clap and his surgeon hushed it up to save his reputation – though not his life.

‘I worked hard and carefully to uncover the cause of Britten’s deterioration and ultimately found the witnesses and evidence that led me to my conclusions more plausible than the assertions that have subsequently appeared to try to counter them,’ he writes. Read here.

britten boys


  • JBBaldwin says:

    The clap is gonorrhea, not syphilis, n’cest pas?

  • Tim Benjamin says:

    What makes you think that Paul Kildea is the BPF’s “official biographer”? The closest such a thing has come to existence is probably Imogen Holst. The BPF currently has two archivists, a librarian, and a curator among other staff but no “official biographer” – unless they are keeping extremely quiet about it!

    I thoroughly enjoyed Kildea’s recent Britten biography but found the syphylis claim – the final chapter or so, IIRC – a bit of a stretch and a bit “tacked on” and in contrast to the rest of the book. There’s clearly a question to be asked as it’s not an implausible diagnosis, but I did not really care what the answer was, to be honest! – and I doubt we’ll ever know for certain.

  • Mark Shulgasser says:

    The link does not take me to Kildea’s remarks.

  • Neil McGowan says:

    What with “Johann Sebastian, your dinner’s in the oven and the 3rd Cello Suite is on the harpsichord”, and now this, it’s been Feeding Time for the Muggles this week :((

    Tune in next week for “Hector Berlioz Ate My Hamster” and “Shostakovich was in the pay of Mossad”.

  • R. James Tobin says:

    JB Baldwin is correct.