Wulff – Britten’s Young Apollo

By Tony Scotland

At eighteen, the poet Wulff Scherchen was the muse and lover of Benjamin Britten. Raised in Nazi Germany, he was the eldest son of the conductor Hermann Scherchen, musical reformer, anti-fascist – and compulsive womaniser. Both Wulff’s parents were committed Marxists, and his aunts and uncles were Soviet secret agents. After Hitler came to power the Scherchens separated, Hermann settling in Switzerland, while Wulff and his mother moved to Cambridge – under the eye of MI5. On exeats from The Perse School, Wulff stayed with Britten at his windmill in Suffolk, writing passionate verses reciprocated with passionate music (including Young Apollo and Les Illuminations). Come the war, when Britten went to America, Wulff was arrested as an enemy alien and transported to prison camp in Canada. Returning as a British soldier, he served in Bomb Disposal, married a Yorkshire WAAF and raised a family of four. As later migrants to Australia, he and his wife celebrated 70 years of marriage – but Wulff never forgot his first romance.

Wulff Scherchen outside Benjamin Britten’s converted windmill at Snape in Suffolk, 1938 (Image by courtesy of Britten Pears Arts).

Wulff and Ben, Snape, 1938 (Image by courtesy of Britten Pears Arts)

The Old Mill, Snape (Daily Mail, December 1947, image courtesy Britten Pears Arts)

One of a set of three ‘Sturm und Drang’ poems which Wulff wrote for Ben, at the height of their relationship in the autumn of 1938 (Image courtesy Britten Pears Arts).

Like the other titles in the Shelf Lives list, Wulff should appeal to collectors and bibliophiles as well as to readers. A small book of 176 pages, with 39 photographs, a dustjacket and an index, it is available in hardback (218 x 138 mm), ISBN 978-0-9955503-5-3, at the pre-publication special offer price of £20.00 including UK postage. It will be published on 6 August 2021, in a limited edition of 250 copies, at a cost of £24.00.

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