In 1941, Benjamin Britten, then a struggling young classical composer, visited the U.S. for several months. In the course of his wanderings, he ended up on Long Island, and took the opportunity to spend some time as the guest of my grandfather, who was very active in the local classical music scene.

He spend a weekend building model airplanes with my father (14 at the time) and working a bit in the store. When it was time to leave, he made the surprising announcement that he was giving up writing music and wanted to go to work for my grandfather full-time.

My grandfather thought he was crazy. He'd already had pieces performed by major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic.

My grandfather point blank refused to take him up on the offer. "What do you want?" he asked. "Blood?"

Eventually, Britten changed his mind and went back to England to become a major success as a composer of opera music.

Fifty Years Later

In 1992, Humphrey Carpenter was writing a biography of Britten. During the course of writing, he got in contact with my father. They corresponded and Carpenter used photos of my father and grandfather in the book. Then, Carpenter invited my father as a guest to the Alderburgh Music Festival (founded by Britten). By that time, the book (with photos) was already published in England . He was wined and dined at a special reception for patrons of the festival, and people kept coming up to him, saying, "I know you. You're Bobby Rothman." My father was delighted at being a celebrity.

The next day, Carpenter asked my father to come by to answer some questions about Britten for the archives. Carpenter set up a tape recorder, started it, and asked the first question:

"Did you know that Benjamin Britten was in love with you?"

Yes, Britten always had an attraction for teenaged boys, and my father was the apple of his eye, so much so that he was willing to give up music just to be with him. At the same time, Britten was extremely discreet about it, and rarely showed anything overt. (Years later, my grandfather could not accept the fact that Britten was gay, despite the fact that Britten had had a long-term relationship with tenor Peter Pears. "Not Ben," he said when someone mentioned the fact.)

Needless to say, this was the first time my father had heard of it. His answer was simple: "Turn off the tape recorder!" He also wasn't too happy about the people recognizing him the night before......

You can find the full story in Carpenter's biography of Britten.


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