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Britten’s Children

John Bridcut

A unique and moving re-assessment of Benjamin Britten by the award-winning film director, John Bridcut.

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Britten’s Children confronts the edgy subject of the composer’s obsessional yet strangely innocent relationships with adolescent boys. One of the hallmarks of Benjamin Britten’s music is his use of boys’ voices, and John Bridcut uses this to create a fresh prism through which to view the composer’s life. Interweaving discussion of the music he wrote for and about children with interviews with the boys whom Britten befriended, Bridcut explores the influence of these unique friendships – notably with the late David Hemmings – and how they helped Britten maintain links with his own happy childhood.

In a remarkable part of the book Bridcut tells for the first time the full story of Britten’s love affair in the 1930s with the 18-year-old German Wulff Scherchen, son of the conductor Hermann Scherchen. As Paul Hoggart of The Times commented, ‘this type of love belonged to an emotional landscape that has vanished for ever, and we are the poorer for it’. Since making the film, the author has extended his research to include friendships Britten had with children which have not previously been documented.

The documentary Britten’s Children won the Royal Philharmonic Society’s 2005 Award for Creative Communication: ‘this serious and beautiful film explored one aspect of a composer’s life in great depth. Avoiding the temptation of sensationalism, Britten’s Children was imaginatively researched and both touching and revelatory’.

Critic Reviews

Bridcut movingly shows how [the children's] young lives were immeasurably enriched by the association with a man who remained in touch with the child in himself. He also relates these relationships to the relevant music in an intelligent and readable way.

Geraint Lewis, Gramophone
Critic Reviews

Bridcut's book, written in an impeccably unsensational tone, raises issues about the relationship between adults and children that go far beyond art.

Richard Morrison, The Times
Critic Reviews

Britten's Children started out ... as an uncommonly intelligent and unapologetic arts documentary ... and is developed here by its producer John Bridcut into a clinical and comprehensive study of a great composer and his interest in small boys, augmented with untold encounters and archival revelations.

Norman Lebrecht, Evening Standard
Critic Reviews

John Bridcut interviewed Hemmings for his remarkable television documentary, Britten's Children, and has now written an equally good book, which manages the tricky balancing act of being forthright without ever being prurient. He never forgets that the reason these relationships between Britten and a succession of boys and adolescents are of interest to the rest of us is that they inspired wonderful, complex and exhilarating music. ... Bridcut's book fills several important gaps, not only in Humphrey Carpenter's substantial but patchy biography of the composer, but even in Donald Mitchell and Philip Reed's meticulous and indispensable volumes of Britten's letters and diaries. ... In the current climate of hysteria about any sort of relationship between adults and children, Bridcut's book seems enlightened as well as enlightening, tackling a difficult subject with both sensitivity and directness. Unstuffy, often funny, frequently heart-rending, and always hugely readable, it also does what all good biographies do: it sends you back to the work well-informed and newly enthused.

Peter Parker, Daily Telegraph
Critic Reviews

Bridcut tackles a sensitive subject with tact and honesty.

The Times
Critic Reviews

Although music, rather than sex, is the unifying thread in Britten's Children and the narrative is anything but gossipy or salacious, Bridcut is dispassionately candid in his treatment of the various friendships and liaisons. ... In treating Britten's fondness for the young of his own sex as something more than lipsmacking paedophilia, this book does him a service both as a man and an artist.

Jonathan Keates, Sunday Telegraph

John Bridcut is a documentary film-maker for British television. His enthusiasm for English music has been lifelong, and his feature-length films, Britten’s Children (2004), The Passions of Vaughan Williams (2008) and Elgar: The Man Behind the Mask (2010), have won awards. His most recent composer-portraits have been The Prince and the Composer (2011), in which HRH The Prince of Wales…

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