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Britten and Pears regarded their relationship as a ‘marriage’ and described it as such as early as 1943. Although comfortable with using this term privately, they were aware of the legal prohibition and social stigma that prevented them from proclaiming their partnership openly. And yet throughout their nearly forty years together they made no immediate secret among their circle of friends and relatives about living their lives as a couple. As this essay suggests, theirs was a special case, in that they lived their relationship with relative openness among those who knew them. Works such as the Michelangelo Sonnets and Canticle I were a declaration of sorts about the nature of their relationship, although it was not until after the composer’s death that Pears commented overtly in an interview about their love for one another. A decade after the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in the UK, and with social discussion on homosexuality widening, Pears believed that his and Britten’s marriage need no longer be regarded as a secret.
Imogen Holst, Rosamund Strode, and Colin Matthews, who all served in the amanuensis role to Benjamin Britten, represent an important but often overlooked tradition of musical assistantship. This chapter traces the professionalisation of that position with Britten from one of close personal friendship with the composer, in the case of Holst, to something more formal when considering Strode and Matthews. Understanding the relationship between these individuals, alongside their contributions to the culture which surrounded Britten and his music at Aldeburgh, uncovers a rich tapestry of interconnections underscoring the collaborative nature of Britten’s achievements while also revealing how these figures contributed to the composer’s legacy.
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