Statue snub in the battle over Britten

Click to follow
Proposals to erect a statue of the composer Benjamin Britten in the graveyard where he is buried were turned down by the town council, in an apparent snub, it emerged yesterday.

Britten, once said to be the first major composer to be born in England for 300 years, was one of the greatest opera composers of this century. He lived in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, for 30 years and is buried there.

But when the district council suggested putting up a statue or bust to honour him, Aldeburgh town council rejected the idea and discussed the options of planting trees, putting up a bird table or erecting a statue of a fisherman to emphasise the town's fishing heritage.

The decision, communicated to Suffolk Coastal district council in a letter, has surprised and angered Britten's admirers, who claim that if it was not for the composer few would have heard of the town.

Britten and his life-long companion Peter Pears set up the Aldeburgh Festival, which performs much of Britten's music and attracts musicians from all over the world.

Aldeburgh's town clerk, Andrew Harris, explained yesterday: "It is not as if Benjamin Britten was born and bred in Aldeburgh - he was born in Lowestoft.

"We have several other well-known people who were born here, such as George Crabbe, the poet, and Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson, Britain's first woman doctor.

"We want people to know that there is more to Aldeburgh than just Benjamin Britten. We have just spent pounds 12,000 on a new play area which is of more practical benefit to the town and its people than a statue or bust.

"We are not anti-Britten, but if there is money available councillors felt that there were other things to spend it on which would be of greater benefit to the town and its people.

"There are already several things to commemorate him in the town. There is a blue plaque on the side of the house where he lived and a window dedicated to him in the parish church."

John Richardson, a member of Suffolk Coastal district council, said he had been surprised by the town council's reaction. But it had later emerged that Britten had not wanted such a tribute, he said.

However, a local Britten historian, who asked not to be named, observed: "There seems to be a feeling among council members that his contribution to the town was highly debatable.

"Just because he wasn't born and bred here and didn't live here all the time, they doubt his value. It is dreadful that such a great man should be subjected to such an apparent snub."

Britten was born in 1913 and moved to Aldeburgh after the end of the Second World War. Some of his most famous works, including the operas Peter Grimes, Billy Budd and Noye's Fludde, are set on the Suffolk coast.

He underwent heart surgery in 1973 and never fully recovered. He died in December 1976, six months after he had was made Baron Britten of Aldeburgh in the Queen's Birthday Honours.