Britten's Children

Faber and Faber

book image


The award-winning documentary Britten’s Children was first broadcast in 2004 to much critical acclaim. A tender and balanced account of Benjamin Britten’s intense friendships with adolescent boys, the film was praised by The Times as capturing ‘the type of love [which] belonged to an emotional landscape that has vanished forever’. Since then the film’s director, John Bridcut, has gone on to explore previously undocumented relationships: how they helped Britten re-create a sense of his own happy childhood, and also how they influenced his music.

A hallmark of Britten’s compositions is his use of boys’ voices, and the music he wrote for and about children has a very special resonance. John Bridcut interweaves discussion of the music with accounts of the unique friendships that influenced it, creating a fresh prism through which to view the composer’s life. Ultimately this is a moving story of human relationships and how they bore artistic fruit.


Available in both hardback and paperback.
Both versions can be purchased from this website at the sale prices of £14.99 and £8.99 respectively




'Gripping, revelatory and a bit shocking…  The outstanding music book of the year.'

Richard Morrison, The Times

'Britten's Children is a revealing investigation into a subject that has been largely avoided - even though it's of central importance to Britten's life and music. [...]  This compelling book probes the contradiction that lies at the heart of much of his work - between innocence and corruption, encouragement yet control, the strait-laced but homosexual Britten.'

Daisy Vatalaro, Financial Times

'Admirably level-headed…  Forthright, but never prurient…  His practical understanding of how music works sends one scrabbling through the CD shelves to listen again as you read.'

Peter Parker, Evening Standard Books of the Year

'perceptive, tasteful and honest… Bridcut’s fair, open-minded and superbly written book must be the definitive word on the subject for some time…  In the ever-growing Britten bibliography, it deserves to achieve the status of a classic.'

Michael Kennedy, Opera

'Bridcut shows that it is possible to write a satisfying biography which focuses on only one area of the subject’s life.  By following a single thread, he creates a narrative more illuminating and more gripping than those found in many an exhaustive cradle-to-grave biography.'

Lucasta Miller, The Guardian

'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

'One of the most enlightening studies of Britten that has appeared so far…  Britten’s Children  is written with sympathy both for Britten and for the children; it is an important book, which anyone seeking to understand the personality and the music of the greatest English composer of the twentieth century should read.'

David Matthews, The Times Literary Supplement

'No-one who saw John Bridcut’s documentary Britten’s Children can have failed to have been touched by the poetic sensitivity with which he handled such a difficult topic. … In this his first book, Bridcut proves every bit a master of the written word as he is of the celluloid image'

Julian Haylock, Classic FM Magazine


5.0 out of 5 stars Exemplary19 Jan. 2015
If you love the music of Britten, then you will absolutely love this remarkably sensitive yet honest treatment of a really difficult subject. In the age of "paedogeddon", Bridcut achieves a truly remarkable feat in covering a subject which is potentially absolute dynamite without ever straying into sensationalism, and tracking down first-person accounts and primary sources that reveal what is very likely the truth about a life that, these days, would be the stuff of strident, bigoted and largely inaccurate tabloid headlines.

This is an astonishing book about one of the defining figures of English 20th Century culture. The picture of Britten as the eternal schoolboy, innocent and in love with music, first and foremost, makes sense of contradictions that are otherwise a source of puzzlement.

This is not a hagiography, it is a portrait warts and all - but the warts are placed in the context of true genius, a term much over-used. Any musician will know that Britten's music is written with remarkable insight: singers always have space to breathe, horn players have moments to rest the lip. Britten loved the process of performance. Beethoven is uncompromising, where Britten is challenging. The music of Britten is beloved of amateurs because it is written with love of the performer and the performance, and this book explains why.
5.0 out of 5 stars
An excellent read, 27 Nov 2013


By Robert Attewell

If I could only own one book (apart from the Bible) this would be it. John Bridcut's story of this great British composer is written with sensitivity, honesty and fairness. It reveals not just the brilliant musician but the human being. It is hugely readable, funny, tragic, heart rending, gripping. The final page is a master class in how to finish a book....I have read it dozens of times and am always overwhelmed.


5.0 out of 5 stars
Essential Britten reading, 1 Jan 2013
By D. Ashdown - See all my reviews

This is a superb book - well written and entertaining to read, excellently researched, personal in tone but measured in the author's viewpoint and his appraisal of the difficult subject of Britten's relationships with young and adolescent boys. It paints a well-rounded picture of Britten himself, including his great personal kindness to the children he befriended, and the book is particularly good on the subject of the composer's own fixation on boyhood. I learned a great deal from it.


4.0 out of 5 stars
The children who loved Britten., 31 July 2012
By Veronique Borde (Paris, France)

A good book if you don't take it for what it is NOT: a biography of Britten. But a good complement to a biography (especially for the years 1938 to 1941) if you have already read one, or to "Letters from a Life" (which come very close to a detailed biography).

If Bridcut states in his Preface that "there is no obligation on those who admire, even adore, the music to feel the same about the man ", well... the book eventually rather confirms St Matthew's "Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Mt 7,16) - or, in Peter Pears's words: "He was a good man. How could he not be having written all that beautiful music?"

The author was, as he says, "lucky enough to work with Britten" (as a singer) and the book is also insightful into Britten's music in so far as children's voices are involved.

A very pleasant reading too.


5.0 out of 5 stars
Different perspective on Britten's music, 7 Dec 2010   By cris.tine

This is an excellent read as well as giving enormous detail on Britten's music. Coming at his music from a different perspective, John Bridcut makes a good case for the influence of children upon his composing and gives much insight as to why Britten's music was so successful, particularly for voices. It also gives details of how his special ability to relate to children led him often to assist financially with their education. The book is highly informative and, working chronologically through Britten's life, provides much fascinating detail on individual works.



30 of 30 people found the following review helpful:  4.0 out of 5 stars
A measured account of a difficult subject, 4 Jan 2009
By Mr. T. Harvey "trevorbelmont2" (Hove)  

This book deals with the contentious subject of Benjamin Britten's intense friendships with adolescent boys. It expands on the author's television documentary which was shown to great critical acclaim in June 2004.

In today's society, these friendships would undoubtedly be viewed with suspicion. But what comes across is the depth of affection between the boys and Britten. Dare one call it love?

The book also deals with Britten's own children, ie his music. The author analyses the music that Britten wrote for children to perform (eg: 'Noye's Fludde', 'Ceremony of Carols') as well as those works in which boys' voices are utilised (eg: 'Spring Symphony'). These analyses are succinct and non-academic and, in some cases, revealed aspects of his music I had not noticed before, even though I have been listening to Britten's music for over thirty five years.

The author also looks at various childish aspects of Britten's personality, for example his fondness for the card game 'Happy Families', his delight in gobbledegook, his love of fast cars.

It is telling that the book is entitled 'Britten's Children' when it more accurately should be called 'Britten's Boys'. I guess the author and/or publishers felt that that would be a step too far.

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