Britten-Pears Foundation stages homosexuality law exhibition

Painfully discreet as Benjamin Britten was forced to be, it is now 50 years since same-sex relationships were decriminalised in Britain and the heirs to the Britten estate will mark that breakthrough with a major exhibition.

Press release below.

 

QUEER TALK: HOMOSEXUALITY IN BRITTEN’S BRITAIN
1 February to 28 October 2017

A new exhibition will next year profile the life and creative output of Benjamin Britten, one of the twentieth century’s great composers, during the period of social change that led to the 1967 decriminalisation of homosexuality. Queer Talk: Homosexuality In Britten’s Britain will take place at The Red House, the home in Suffolk that the composer shared with the tenor Peter Pears – his muse, collaborator, recital partner and lover for 39 years. The house was one of a number relisted earlier this year by Historic England in recognition of its role in LGBTQ history and is now home to the Britten-Pears Foundation, which welcomes visitors to experience its special sense of place.

Throughout most of Britten’s life, homosexuality was illegal and socially stigmatised. Queer Talk will focus on two extraordinary works that Britten created against a backdrop of widespread debate on homosexuality: the 1951 all-male opera Billy Budd (1951), and the extended solo vocal work Canticle I ‘My beloved is mine and I am his’ (1947) an open declaration of Britten’s love for Pears and a work they performed together.

The exhibition will explore the social climate of the 1950s, as well as drawing comparisons between the experience of Britten and Pears with other high-profile figures who found their personal lives at odds with the law of the time. Letters by Alan Turing, manuscripts and edits of EM Forster’s homoerotic novel Maurice and photographs of Noël Coward and his long-term companion Graham Payn will be displayed.

Exhibition curator Lucy Walker said:

“Unlike other men in their situation, Britten and Pears didn’t face arrest (although there were rumours that Britten was interviewed by Scotland Yard in 1953) and, to some, their relationship was an ‘open secret’, particularly as Britten composed so much and so openly for his male ‘muse’ and on the subject of male love. But before 1967, having been together nearly 30 years, it would have been impossible for them to admit in public they were a couple, and they remained discreet on that matter even after then.”

“The ‘Queer Talk’ exhibition presents the situation facing Britten and Pears in the 1950s and 1960s, and looks at how Britten in particular kept resolutely quiet on the subject of his private life but at the same time produced a number of works that—to modern eyes—seem to be obviously homoerotic in subject matter. Britten and Pears lived through an extraordinary period of change in social attitudes towards homosexuality, and that change continues today; we hope that visitors to the exhibition will find the circumstances surrounding their personal and creative partnership allow a deeper understanding of their incredible legacy.”

Homosexual acts between men had been illegal since the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, with arrests and prosecutions increasing after World War II. By the mid 1950s, more than 1,000 men were in prison in England and Wales. After a number of high-profile prosecutions, the government set up a departmental committee under Sir John Wolfenden to review the law. The publication of his report in 1957 prompted much debate and a wide range of responses, which the exhibition will depict through contemporary local and national newspaper cuttings, local police reports and television programmes. The exhibition will also feature a 7-metre timeline charting Britten’s significant relationships, his ‘queer’ compositions and the progress of LGBT rights from the 1900s to the present day.

‘Queer Talk’ will run from the 1 February to 28 October 2017 alongside a programme of special events and activities across Aldeburgh. They will include study days and recitals at Britten and Pears’ home, The Red House, Aldeburgh, as well as collaborations with LGBT History Month, the international Aldeburgh Music Festival, Aldeburgh Cinema and Poetry in Aldeburgh.

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  • Pianist and composer, Andre Tchaikowsky, didn’t even try for a British passport until 1967 because of his homosexuality. For the years 1960 to 1966, when Andre settled in London, he was stateless, creating endless problems for travel and so forth. While 1967 brought this change, it seems to me it was very late coming around.

  • It remains amazing that condemnations, begun with St Paul and legally translated into death penalty in AD 342 under emperors Constantus and Constans, survived more than 16 centuries and are still around.

    • Political institutions (including religious ones) have found it useful to have groups to stigmatize and scapegoat, especially when those groups have no power and have at least one distinguishing characteristic that sets them apart. While there have always been other scapegoated groups, gay men, being perceived as a threat to cultural mainstream ideas of masculinity, were feared and singled out most consistently across cultures worldwide for particularly vile treatment. African governments (except for South Africa) remain among the worst, and Russia seems to going in that direction, and China is not much better. With the current fascist turn of the US (and I don’t use that term lightly), one wonders how long it will take for LGBT members to targeted here as well. Local hate groups already feel empowered and are now widely demonstrating that empowerment.

      • ~ Dan P. With all due respect for the great subjects of Her Majesty,The Queen, Queen Elizabeth II’s Kingdom, whether they voted for or against Brexit, it is indeed, deeply hurtful and gravely insulting to the people in my country (an forever Allie of Great Britain) to read your SLAM and I quote you directly, “with the current fascist turn of the US (and I don’t use that term lightly), one wonders how long it will take for LGBT members to be targeted here as well …”

        In posting such an uninformed and outrageous adjective referencing our recent election of President-Elect Trump, a person of wide tolerance — if you have been able to view his “Thank You Tour” from-the-heart speeches, his warm and good willed meetings with Leader’s from far and wide Nations, and already witness a goodwill growing business expansion in my country of birth, you would withdraw such a slanderous comment about the “US turning fascist” ~

        Your own troubled interior thoughts reveal themselves for all whom read them to know, (and I don’t infer this lightly). Only yesterday, it was announced that the Great English Composer, Benjamin Britten’s Estate, shall present an Exhibition from January to late February, 2017, which stories the inner Life of Benjamin Britten (in, I believe, a title close to Britten’s Britain) re the composer’s prolific musical output, his musical collaborator, the great British tenor, & tender Sir Peter Peers, (with whom I met & discussed the American musical premiere of a new work by Benjamin Britten, (over a coffee following the grand success of Sir Peter Peers’ tenor role in another B.B.choral work), and includes/addresses B.B.’s well known about intimate relationship with Peter Peers, & their 39 year lives together, in what is now deemed an Historic English building, The Red House.

        A reasonable person, if this is indicative of hate group behaviour, I suggest you visit a qualified counselor to address your own issues, & as especially intimated toward my country, all our people and, by inference, our new President -Elect, Donald J. Trump. Are you trying to start a War? You must surely know what fascism is, having heard of, read about or known of Mussolini, et al?? THAT, dear sir, was Fascism!

        One would hope your higher self might apologise for what one shall excuse as erred wording. Despite your bashing my country and all people’s living, legally, or awaiting some sort of softer amnesty in it, I continue to admire your British Nation, its people and what is referred to as, “The Best of British” ~

        Wishing you well from the United States of America ~

        Elisabeth M.

        • Dear Ms. M,

          You’re not thinking, just going on blind emotion. Although it’s irrelevant when discussing facts, I was born in the US, have lived here my entire life – over 7 decades – and have voted in every election since, well, a LONG time ago. So – your country is MY country, but, as I said, it’s irrelevant. Indeed, you should take seriously when those from outside the country criticize us (note the American, not British, spelling). We may disagree, but they may have an insight that we don’t have because we’re too close. Also, it pays to listen to people we disagree with. Now for the facts:

          (1) Donald Trump is not a person of wide tolerance. This man called Mexicans rapists and women fat slobs if they are not sexually desirable to him (also remember the rape charges and his privately recorded claims of being able to sexually assault women whenever he wanted?). He has also publicly mocked the disabled and derided the parents of a man who gave his life for OUR country. All these things were captured on TV. He is also the person who, a few decades back ran – with his father – housing that refused to rent to African Americans as a matter of principle. This is also a matter of public record. Why, may one ask, does he have the FULL support of the KKK (who just met in North Carolina to celebrate) and other White Supremacist groups (did you see the photo of them all doing “Sieg Heil” to Trump?) Why?

          (2) He conned unsuspecting people out of millions of dollars as part of his “Trump University” scam, which he just paid $25,000,000 to settle. This scam was set up primarily to bilk as much money out of every participant as possible, promising things he had no intention of delivering. And it wasn’t even a University. As a developer, he also had a habit of not paying his contractors and baiting them when they asked for their money, telling them that if they didn’t back down he’d sue. And what about his fellow investors that he sucked into deals and then pulled the plug with bankruptcy after he pulled out HIS money? That’s a long story just there.

          (4) As for his “warm and good-willed meetings” – yes, he had a warm call with his buddy Vladimir Putin, that protector of gay rights, and had just wonderful things to say about that charming fellow Duterte, strongman in the Philippines, who encouraged the extrajudicial killings first in his native city of Davao and now the entire country. Perhaps you would like to live in an environment like that?

          (4) That the US is showing us its Right Wing / Fascist side is evident from the increased number of assaults against Gays, Blacks, Muslims, and Hispanics in school (being tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center) by kids claiming that Trump has now given them permission. These incidents have now reached several thousand since Trump became president-elect. Same thing for assaults among adults. And that’s no surprise. Another fact: among Trump’s closest advisors are Steve Bannon, the former chief of a well-known and popular White Supremacist website (where Blacks, Jews, and Muslims are disparaged). No wonder these miscreants feel that now it’s their turn.

          So, I really have nothing to apologize for when I criticize Trump or speculate on the direction that OUR country is going in. That you refer to my “troubled interior thoughts” is just nasty drivel cast at someone you disagree with. Whether you like or dislike Trump, to willingly disregard the facts makes a discussion impossible. So, get some facts and then maybe we can discuss.

          All the best from New York City,
          Dan

          • Mrs Elisabeth must by now be hiding under the table.

            While all these things about Mr T-Rex are true (I’m sure there will be more), it should not be forgotten that the other half of Americans did NOT vote for him. So, there is hope. Unless he accidentally unleashes the 3rd World War, he may blunder himself out of office quite soon.

          • Go Dan, can I also mention Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for education secretary who has donated large sums of money to anti gay groups including those promoting gay conversion therapy. Also, just to clarify, 1/4 of eligible voters voted for this man. Half didn’t bother voting at all. Greetings from Australia (well actually Germany but I’m Australian) where voting is compulsory!

          • Bravo Dan and go on telling it like it is. Mealy-mouthed people open the door to every manner of abomination simply because they think that things are too bad to be true.

          • Just to add one LAST thought: John, David, and Ruben: While Mrs. Clinton earned 2,600,000 votes MORE than Trump and about half of the electorate didn’t vote at all, history has shown all too well, that it doesn’t take nearly a majority of bad people to do bad things to everyone. A man with a bomb on a plane doesn’t need a majority to make all of them go down. This is what frightens me. And it’s not just a matter of the other party other than mine winning an election. That happens. We go back and forth and some how we make it through. This time it’s different. Betsy DeVos and each other of Trump’s choices represents a middle finger to one or more groups of people, And when she turns her ideology based on disprovable folklore and delusion on youngsters, that’s unforgiveable.

          • No, Trump never stated or insinuated that Mexicans as a general rule, much less universally, are rapists. He was taking a shot at the Mexican government, which encourages a certain “type” of Mexican to migrate to the U.S. And obviously the Mexican government is not going to encourage those who are most advantageous to their society to migrate.

          • Let me just ask this: what evidence is there that the Mexican government is encouraging a certain “type” of Mexican to migrate to the U.S. and why is this obvious? The only person to have claimed that is Trump and he has long since proved that what he says can’t be accepted without corroboration. Has the immigration service or any other law enforcement said this? All I know is that authorities have gone on record stating that the unaccompanied children who have been crossing the border were coming to escape being pressed into gangs in Mexico and Central America. I think assuming that because they are Mexican (and not all are, in fact, Mexican) that they are rapists is suspicious itself. People have been coming here since the Pilgrims looking for a better life and what we DO know about illegal aliens is that they do jobs that citizens refuse to do at a rate of pay no citizen would accept. And a large portion of that revenue (which is taxed) is sent back to support families at home. I keep asking people, who do they think picks the vegetables that are found in every market, who cleans homes and offices, works in restaurant kitchens? Georgia found out the hard way a few years ago when they cracked down on “illegals” and their peach crop just sat on the vine rotting. They lost LOTS of money on that one.

          • Mr. Borstlap is correct. Upwards of three million more Americans voted for Trump’s opponent than Trump’s supporters voted for Trump.

            Make no mistake about it. I’m mortified that 99% of American voters didn’t go against Trump, but to paint the US with a broad brush is to employ the same smear tactic that Mr. Trump has become expert at.

          • John, I agree with you that one should not paint the US with a broad brush – I keep telling this to all my friends outside the country – but at the same time, it’s dangerous to ignore the degree to which a very vocal minority of white supremacists, homophobes, and xenophobes are making enormous strides and have become emboldened to become the center of attention.

            I don’t have statistics, but I can’t but help believing that a lot of it stems from the multitude of AM radio stations disseminating this hateful spew (like Rush Limbaugh) throughout the country night and day while Fox TV channels is the home of fake news that much of middle America mistakes for the real thing. What makes it seem so is that so many bring up the same right wing talking points with the exact same phraseology. One can only surmise that these opinions are have a common source.

      • Apologies for incorrect dates of the Benjamin Britten Estate Exhibition posted above. The Exhibition begins 1st, February, 2017 through 28th of October, 2017. Mr. Lebrecht is the Expert on all scheduling aspects of this Exhibition and other related activities in Aldeburgh. Please excuse my mistaken dates in a Reply to Dan P., above.

        With greetings of this Christmas Season to Mr. Lebrecht & all on Slipped Disc.com from America ~

        Elisabeth M.

    • I cannot remember having heard a performance / recording with this level of fresh poetry and expression and – especially remarkable – without the slightest affectation, which can creep so easily into this early romantic piece. To my feeling, this is how the work should be played. What a loss!

      • Yes it is a great performance. There’s a wistfulness about this concerto that always affects me when I hear it and especially in the context of Noel’s tragic story. Love is love.

    • The thing I love about this site is the chance to come across music and musicians I don’t know. I knew the name Noel Mewton-Wood but I never heard any recordings of his. I just did – a live performance of Beethoven’s 4th from Utrecht. Really really nice. Absolutely beautiful passage work and a patrician sensibility. Now I have to listen to anything else I can find.

      Thanks,
      Dan

  • Oh sorry, any chance one of those duplicate comments could be deleted? Doesn’t matter which… I mean I know I tend to repeat myself but…

  • John Borstlap said: “…it should not be forgotten that the other half of Americans did NOT vote for him…”

    Please note that 54% of those who voted, voted AGAINST the awful man and FOR some other candidate. Right now Clinton is ahead of the awful man by 2.6 million votes, or 2 percent of the total.

    Lest we forget! The awful incoming administration will do everything possible to hide these inconvenient facts.

  • To All & to ‘With all the best from New York City. Dan” ~

    I’m not hiding under the Table nor mindless nor niave. No one should be criticizing those who have achieved major peaks of high accomplishment, and just so a few finger pointer”s know, I have been in the highest eschelon’s of my
    profession through the Labor of my own Hands, There re No shortcuts, folks, and having lived in London – my favourite City in the World, for a number of years and been the beneficiary of those who ‘judge’ in my profession, I’m not easily fooled. The idea of electing the First of anything is, to me, truly immature when we have over 70,000 companies leaving our country to then do as the new President -Elect points out – bring our companies back to America and to Amerucan workers.

    We are mostly the Baby Boomer generation and carrier’s of our Greateat Generation parents, who rolled up their sleeves, fought for our Freedoms from, yes, Real Fascism — remember Mussolini and his ‘buddie’ Adolph? THAT, dear folks, IS FASCISM. We regrettably are living in an unheralded time — truly upset & overwhelmed that we can!t let our kids go out in the neighborhood streets of many sanctuary cities to play Dodgeball as we did, get in with Rules that Dinner was at 7:00 or 6:30 and at the linoleum kitchen table when our father’s came home and Mom’s had made dinner to be eaten together after saying Grace, then talking to each other about our day, and told to do our homework by our caring parents, even if very poor. This built a Generation Plus of us, the children of the Greatest Generation, who knew what Freedom to voice our ideas, to vote when of age, to get jobs to help us go to the Movies, and to build individual Self -Eateem and self -respect meant following WWII ~

    Perhaps the innocently biggest mistake we, as a Generation of Baby Boomers plus made was to give our kids Everything. When we realised this was and is being passed on to younger generation’s of Internet user!’s who know little of the World and tweet out opinions, thinking they know it all, we, as a Nation, are in real trouble.

    To preserve and resurrect our safe and happy yet disciplined childhood’s to pass on the values we all share, in reasonable measure, the bulk of AMERICAN voter’s Spoke loudly for a firm Leader to dig our over 50, 000,000 jobless yet qualified workers out of a quagmire and down spiraling financial and loss of pride at being American …

    Let us meet back here in 9 months to Talk, or to discuss in a mature way the journey our country has begun and results so far. Don!t complain, because those who are Doing, won!t listen because too many are too busy working at building our collective national morale and healthy morale translates into our pocket books!

    Wishing all a peaceful, healthy and reflective holiday Season and do watch that
    classic Movie, ‘Miracle on Thirty Fourth Street” with Kleenex nearby!!!

    Elisabeth M,

  • A person who has been in the highest echelons of some profession should be able to communicate clearly in their native language– including spelling “echelons.” I would not hire a person who wrote like Ms. M, with endless spelling and other errors. She wrote of her meeting with Peter “Peers,” while his name is obviously Pears. It is not a good way to establish credibility.

    But more importantly, a person who has reached any “major peaks of high accomplishment” should be concerned with facts and truth. The bulk of American “voter’s,” as Ms. M put it, did not vote for Mr. Trump. The word bulk implies a majority, and the majority, by a margin of about 2.6 million as counted so far, voted for Mrs. Clinton.

    While Mr. Trump may not be a homophobe himself, Gov. Pence’s record toward LGBT citizens is clear. The Trump/Pence ticket was also supported by numerous far-right figures, some of whom have even advocated for the killing of gay people. There is always potential for a society to move drastically backwards in terms of human rights. The US and Britain are not exempt from that possibility. We cannot allow things to return to the intolerance of the 1950s or of even darker times.

  • Actually, the very word ‘homosexuality’ is misleading, as is its counterpart ‘heterosexuality’ which only came into being to define ‘the opposite’. In our perverted, materialistic and nihilistic times, where for many people only counts what is (or is supposed to be) visual, the inner experience of love (the gender-free word) often seems to be forgotten. Imagine we would not say: ‘Did you hear, Amantha is in love with Ben’, but: ‘Did you hear, Amantha intensily contemplates heterosexual activity with Ben’.

  • My long response to the appalling insults of Elene Gusch were deleted, and as Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Presidential candidate for President of the United States stated, I choose to follow her Mantra ~ “When they go low, we go high.”

    That said, I must state being one of the 7 original violin protege’s of Jascha Heifetz, and for any who need clarification, go to YouTube & find ~ Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Classes, USC, Khachaturian, JH-7, Elisabeth M – – – – – -,
    in my half hour performance/coaching with Mr. Heifetz, and do feel a bit
    uncomfortable revealing anymore as this is a discussion with hints of a mud
    match by some assuming I know nothing about Mr. Trump ‘or his toxic entourage.’

    Being riveted by the severely declining condition of our Nation, my concerns are with those American workers who are being passed over for much cheaper foreign labourer’s and 70,000 American companies leaving our country for other lands, who actually then turn a knife in our financial pockets, collectively, with smiles on their deceptive faces.

    Having had many very gifted pupils coming from some of the most guilty nations to immerse themselves in my very fortunate first hand violinistic musical pedigree, then once half full, on student visa’s, finagling Green Cards to stay or marrying good folks to stay here to try taking high professional paying jobs all over this country, & walking out of rehearsals to do what we call, ‘double dipping’ to even our greatest American orchestra, presently, galls me, not to mention seeing our own American fellow citizen’s out of work due to the outsourcing epidemic killing our businesses, not to mention wrecking lives of hard working families barely able to buy enough food/clothing & even bus or train tickets for transport, here in America, the prosperous and warm hearted people we have always been to other countries and our own — now so overwhelmed by huge losses of jobs, my view is that this (quoting a contributor) ‘Awful Man’ who truly wishes to bring back the Baby Boomer Days when parents feared not for the safety of their children – most of us, playing Dodgeball in a neighborhood street until dark or on the school playground/s in Summer to improve our skills in various sports; when many had week-end or even early morning jobs as paper boys/girls to earn a bit to go to a Movie in a theatre on a Saturday without fear of a crazed gunman opening fire with an AK 40, aimlessly killing innocent people because, to quote many upset city officials, “this person was mentally disturbed …” & more ~

    Any person who has been able to achieve (and I’ll say it again) Olympic levels of excellence, knows there are No Shortcuts to such achievement. It is challenging to go to practise, no matter if it’s baseball or a musical instrument, when no one thinks one capable yet an inner drive and compulsion with love being the chief motivator, drives those destined and, better said, determined to make something of their lives, gets up before dawn and runs those 10 miles (just re-watch Rocky Movies!) every day and begins to see, feel and know others are noticing results. This process many here know of, so why should there be such anger, and yes, hate, due to a from-the-soil person in Queens, needing no more money, self funding a campaign to try to become a Presidential nominee? Take away the issues which keep repeating themselves even here — gender this and that, and realise the more divisive some on the take stir up, the less chance we, as a people, have to redeem our own individual esteem and, vitally more important, our national collective Self Esteem as American’s whom people who used to look up to but no longer do, will hopefully begin viewing us with respect.

    For Dan P. ~ As a musician having lived in inner London, UK, playing around the world, and been privileged to teach in London, in Helsinki at the Sibelius Academy of Music; play the ‘Adagio di motto’ from Sibelius’ Violin Concerto at the invitation of the Five Daughters of Jean Sibelius for the official Finnish government Inaugural Concert/Ceremony proclaiming the birth -house of the Finnish Giant of Composition, Sibelius, (in the same ‘league’ with Ludwig van Beethoven), the ‘Sibelius National Memorial Museum’ for his Centenery in Hameenlinna, recorded/ televised, Live, throughout Europe, in the living room of the young Jean Sibelius, + much more, I can suggest you access other great recordings of all 5 Beethoven Piano Concerto’s as performed/interpreted by Emile Gillels, the great Russian pianist; Arthur Rubinstein ( if he recorded all 5 or even 1 of the 5?); the great British pianist, John Lill, MBE (although the MBE hasn’t any input to John Lill’s greatness as a Beethoven interpreter as such, other than being a wonderful gesture by Her Majesty The Queen, HRH, Queen Elizabeth II of England, awarding the MBE honouring John Lill’s premier achievement by winning the Gold Medal, first prize, in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1970, becoming the first and only British born pianist to win this world renowned coveted Concours.) John Lill has recorded all 5 Beethoven Piano Concerto’s with a profundity of rare insight and artistry which rivals that of the great, late British pianist, Solomon ~ ( As an aside, thank you to both John Borstlap and David Osburne for their drawing attention to a fine Australian pianist, Noel Mewton -Wood, who Benjamin Britten took under his musical wing, which if not mentioned, would never have drawn my professional life into this discussion ~ Certainly, Mr. Newton-Wood’s tragic story will be featured during the Britten -Pears Foundation 2017 Festivities in Aldeburgh …

    Time to cease, I pray this Holiday Season brings Peace, Love & Goodwill to All ~

    Elisabeth M.

    • Are you sure you’ve said everything you have to say? Really, are you sure?

      (BTW, please study how and where to use apostrophes.)

      • My initial Reply deleted, but in light of your complant /s re my lengthy response, it brings me back to a delightful meeting I had with my former ‘boss’, Sir Georg Solti, Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, whom I’d written back to, by hand, re a musical project, which upon our in person greetings, mentioned with a smile on his face, “My dear Elisabeth, I received your letter and read it which was 7 pages long!” Seeing Maestro Solti’s smile, scratching his balding head w/ his formal British secretary nearby, I looked Solti right in the eyes, saying, “Well, Maestro, at least I know you read it as you’re absolutely correct! It was 7 pages!!” Solti looked up, and suddenly roared with laughter, saying something in Yiddish meaning, “My Elisabeth – she is a crazy child!”

        We laughed so hard, we cried and had a warm Hug, parting better friends than ever before ~

        At least, John B., I am assured you took valuable time to read my long post and send you ~

        Best Wishes of this Holiday Season!

        Elisabeth M*

        *Re apostrophe’s, I like them!

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