To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in February 2017, we are getting treated to a new exhibition which will profile the life and creative output of Benjamin Britten.
Benjamin Britten was one of the great composers of the 20th century, who was active during the period of huge social change that led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967.
The exhibition, which has the full title Queer Talk: Homosexuality in Britten’s Britain, will take place at the Red House. This was the the composer’s home which he shared with the tenor Peter Pears – his muse, collaborator, recital partner and lover for 39 years.
The press release reads: “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 also be taking a larger look at the social climate during the 1950’s, and will also draw comparisons between the experiences shared by Britten and Pears with other high profile figures who found their personal lives to be at odds with the laws and social expectations of their time.
There will also be letters by Alan Turing, manuscripts of EM Forster’s novel Maurice and photographs of Noel Coward and his companion Graham Payn on display.
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.”
Queer Talk will be running from February 1 to October 28 2017 and it will be running alongside a programme of special events activities across Adleburgh. There are also collaborations with LGBT History Month, as well as the Aldeburgh Music Festival, Aldeburgh Cinema and Poetry in Aldeburgh.