Can the claims for Britten as the greatest English composer since Purcell be justified? Was the composer of gloomily tragic operas himself depressed and obsessive? What effect did Britten's sexuality have on his career? In this accessible history, Christopher Mark traces the impact of Britten's physical and cultural environment, his shifting musical and personal relationships, and his emerging sense of sexual identity on his musical output. What is revealed is not only a life conditioned by a compulsion to compose, but one which seems increasingly to reflect Britten's aesthetic imperatives.