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Benjamin Britten

November 22, 1913 - December 4, 1976
born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England, composed during the Modern period
With the arrival of Benjamin Britten on the international music scene, many felt that English music gained its greatest genius since Purcell. A composer of wide-ranging talents, Britten found in the human voice an especial source of inspiration, an affinity that resulted in a remarkable body of work, ranging from operas like Peter Grimes (1944-1945) and Death in Venice (1973) to song cycles like the Serenade for tenor, horn, and strings (1943) to the massive choral work War Requiem (1961). He also produced much music for orchestra and chamber ensembles, including symphonies, concerti, and chamber and solo works. Britten's father was a prosperous oral surgeon in the town of Lowestoft, Suffolk; his mother was a leader in the local choral society. When Benjamin's musical aptitude became evident, the family engaged composer Frank Bridge to supervise his musical education. Bridge's tutelage was one of the formative and lasting influences on Britten's compositional development; Britten eventually paid tribute to his teacher in his Op. 10, the Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge (1937). Britten's formal training also included studies at the Royal College of Music (1930-1933).

Upon graduation from the RCM, Britten obtained a position scoring documentaries (on prosaic themes like "Sorting Office") for the Royal Post Office film unit. Working on a tight budget, he learned how to extract the maximum variety of color and musical effectiveness from the smallest combinations of instruments, producing dozens of such scores from 1935 to 1938. He rapidly emerged as the most promising British composer of his generation and entered into collaborative relationships that exerted a profound influence upon his creative life. Among the most important of his professional associates were literary figures like W.H. Auden, and later, E.M. Forster. None, however, played as central a role in Britten's life as the tenor Peter Pears, who was Britten's closest intimate, both personally and professionally, from the late '30s to the composer's death. Pears' voice inspired a number of Britten's vocal cycles and opera roles, and the two often joined forces in song recitals and, from 1948, in the organization and administration of the Aldeburgh Festival.

A steadfast pacifist, Britten left England in 1939 as war loomed over Europe. He spent four years in the United States and Canada, his compositional pace barely slackening, as evidenced by the production of works like the Sinfonia da Requiem (1940), the song cycle Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo (1940), and his first effort for the stage, Paul Bunyan (1940-1941). Eventually, the poetry of George Crabbe drew Britten back to England. With a Koussevitzky Commission backing him, the composer wrote the enormously successful opera Peter Grimes (1944-45), which marked the greatest turning point in his career. His fame secure, Britten over the next several decades wrote a dozen more operas, several of which -- Albert Herring (1947), Billy Budd (1951), The Turn of the Screw (1954), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1960), Death in Venice (1973) -- became instant and permanent fixtures of the repertoire. He also continued to produce much vocal, orchestral, and chamber music, including Songs and Proverbs of William Blake (1965), the three Cello Suites (1961-1964) and the Cello Symphony (1963), written for Mstislav Rostropovich, and the Third String Quartet (1975).

Britten suffered a stroke during heart surgery in 1971, which resulted in something of a slowdown in his creative activities. Nonetheless, he continued to compose until his death in 1976, by which time he was recognized as one of the principal musical figures of the twentieth century. ~ Michael Rodman, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Britten Choral Music: Corydon Singers/ Westminster Cathedral Choir/ Best

Title: Rejoice In The Lamb, Festival Cantata For Trumpet, Atb Soloists, Chorus & Organ, Op. 30
Title: A Wedding Anthem, For Soprano, Tenor, Chorus & Organ, Op. 46
Title: Festival Te Deum, For Trumpet, Chorus & Organ, Op. 32
Title: A Boy Was Born, Choral Variations For Mixed Voices, Op. 3
x

Track List: A Midsummer Night's Dream / Britten, London SO

Disc 1
Title: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Opera, Op. 64
Disc 2
x

Track List: Benjamin Britten: Billy Budd

Disc 1
Title: Billy Budd, opera, Op. 50
Disc 2
Disc 3
x

Track List: Benjamin Britten: Spring Symphony; Welcome Ode; Psalm 150

Title: Spring Symphony, For Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Boys' Chorus, Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 44
Title: Welcome Ode, For Young People's Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 95
Title: Psalm 150, For Children's Chorus & Instruments, Op. 67
x

Track List: Britten - Billy Budd / Keenlyside · Langridge · John Tomlinson · LSO · Hickox

Disc 1
Title: Billy Budd, opera, Op. 50
Disc 2
Disc 3
x

Track List: Britten Conducts Britten

Disc 1
Title: Piano Concerto In D Major, Op. 13
Title: Violin Concerto In D Minor, Op. 15
Disc 2
Title: Cello Symphony, For Cello & Orchestra, Op. 68
Title: Sinfonia Da Requiem, For Orchestra, Op. 20
Title: Cantata Misericordium, For Tenor, Baritone, Chorus, String Quartet, Strings, Piano, Harp & Tympani, Op. 69
Disc 3
Title: Prelude & Fugue, For 18 Strings, Op. 29
Title: Simple Symphony, For String Orchestra, Op. 4
Title: Variations On A Theme By Frank Bridge, For Strings, Op. 10
Title: Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra (Variations And Fugue On A Theme Of Purcell), For Speaker Ad Lib & Orchestra, Op. 34
Disc 4
Title: The Prince Of The Pagodas, Ballet, Op. 57
Disc 5
Title: Diversions, For Piano, Left Hand & Orchestra, Op. 21
Title: Sonnets (7) Of Michelangelo, For Voice & Piano, Op. 22
Disc 6
Title: The Holy Sonnets (9) of John Donne, for voice & piano, Op. 35
Title: Songs and Proverbs of W. Blake, song cycle for baritone & piano, Op. 74
Title: Winter Words, Song Cycle For Tenor & Piano, Op. 52
Title: Tit For Tat, Song Cycle For Voice & Piano
Disc 7
Title: Serenade, For Tenor, Horn & Strings, Op. 31
Title: Les Illuminations, Song Cycle For High Voice & Strings, Op. 18
Title: Nocturne, For Tenor, 7 Instruments & Strings, Op. 60
x

Track List: Britten Songs

Title: Winter Words, Song Cycle For Tenor & Piano, Op. 52
Title: Sonnets (7) Of Michelangelo, For Voice & Piano, Op. 22
Title: Hölderlin Fragments (6), Song Cycle, For Tenor & Piano, Op. 61
Title: Who Are These Children?, Song Cycle For Tenor & Piano, Op. 84
Title: Songs From The Chinese, Song Cycle For High Voice & Guitar, Op. 58
x

Track List: Britten: A Ceremony of Carols

Title: A Ceremony Of Carols, For Treble Voices (Or Chorus) & Harp, Op. 28
Title: Missa Brevis, For Boys' Chorus & Organ In D Major, Op. 63
Title: A Hymn To The Virgin, For Double Chorus
Title: Hymn of St. Columba (Regis regum rectissimi), for chorus & organ
Title: Deus in adjutorium meum, motet for chorus (from "This Way to the Tomb")
Title: Jubilate Deo, for chorus & organ in E flat major
x

Track List: Britten: Cello Suites Nos. 1-3

Title: Suite For Solo Cello No. 1, Op. 72
Title: Suite For Solo Cello No. 2, Op. 80
Title: Suite For Solo Cello No. 3, Op. 87
x

Track List: Britten: Folk Song Arrangements

Disc 1
Title: Folksong Arrangements, Vol. I "British Isles", For Voice & Piano
Title: Tom Bowling And Other Song Arrangements, For Voice & Piano
Title: Folksong Arrangements, Vol. III "British Isles", For Voice & Piano
Title: Tom Bowling And Other Song Arrangements, For Voice & Piano
Title: Folksong Arrangements, Vol. V "British Isles", For Voice & Piano
Title: Tom Bowling And Other Song Arrangements, For Voice & Piano
Disc 2
Title: Folksong Arrangements, Vol. IV "Moore's Irish Melodies", For Voice & Piano
Title: Folksong Arrangements, Vol. II "France", For Voice & Piano
Title: Folksong Arrangements, Vol. VI "England", For Soprano Or Tenor & Guitar
Title: Tom Bowling And Other Song Arrangements, For Voice & Piano
Title: Work(s)
x

Track List: Britten: Folk Song Arrangements, Vol. 2

Title: Folksong Arrangements (8), For High Voice & Harp
Title: The Holly And The Ivy, Folksong Arrangement For Chorus
Title: King Herod And The Cock, For Unison Chorus & Piano
Title: The Twelve Apostles, For Tenor, Unison Voices & Piano
Title: The Bitter Withy, Folk Song For Tenor, Boys' Chorus & Piano (unfinished)
Title: French Folk Songs (5), For Baritone & Orchestra
Title: The Salley Gardens, Folk Song For High Voice & Strings
Title: Little Sir William, Folk Song For High Voice & Orchestra
Title: The Bonny Earl O' Moray, Folk Song For High Voice & Orchestra
Title: O Can Ye Sew Cushions?, Folk Song For High Voice & Orchestra
Title: Oliver Cromwell, Folk Song For High Voice & Orchestra
Title: The Plough Boy, Folk Song For High Voice & Orchestra
Title: O Waly, Waly, Folk Song For High Voice & Strings
Title: Come You Not From Newcastle?, Folk Song For High Voice & Orchestra
Title: The Salley Gardens, Folk Song For High Or Medium Voice, Bassoon Or Cello, Harp Or Piano & Strings
x

Track List: Britten: Holy Sonnets, Billy Budd, etc. / Britten, Glossop, Pears, et al

Disc 1
Title: The Holy Sonnets (9) of John Donne, for voice & piano, Op. 35
Title: Songs and Proverbs of W. Blake, song cycle for baritone & piano, Op. 74
Title: Billy Budd, opera, Op. 50
Disc 2
Disc 3
x

Track List: Britten: Peter Grimes

Disc 1
Title: Peter Grimes, Opera, Op. 33
Disc 2
x

Track List: Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Nocturne; Phaedra

Title: Serenade, For Tenor, Horn & Strings, Op. 31
Title: Nocturne, For Tenor, 7 Instruments & Strings, Op. 60
Title: Phaedra, Dramatic Cantata For Mezzo-soprano, String Orchestra, Percussion & Harpsichord, Op. 93
x

Track List: Britten: Sinfonia Da Requiem

Title: Gloriana, Symphonic Suite For Tenor (or Oboe) & Orchestra, Op. 53a
Title: Sea Interludes (4) From Peter Grimes, For Orchestra, Op. 33a
Title: Passacaglia, For Orchestra, Op. 33b (from "Peter Grimes")
Title: Sinfonia Da Requiem, For Orchestra, Op. 20
x

Track List: Britten: Still Falls The Rain

Title: The Heart Of The Matter, For Tenor, Narrator, Horn & Piano
Title: Canticle Iii:still Falls The Rain, For Tenor, Horn & Piano, Op. 55
Title: The Heart Of The Matter, For Tenor, Narrator, Horn & Piano
Title: A Birthday Hansel, Song Cycle For Tenor & Harp, Op. 92
Title: Canticle V: The Death Of St Narcissus, For Tenor & Harp, Op. 89
Title: British Folksongs (8), For Voice & Harp
x

Track List: Britten: Suites For Solo Cello

Title: Suite For Solo Cello No. 1, Op. 72
Title: Suite For Solo Cello No. 2, Op. 80
Title: Suite For Solo Cello No. 3, Op. 87
x

Track List: Britten: The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra; Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge; Simple Symphony

Title: Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra (Variations And Fugue On A Theme Of Purcell), For Speaker Ad Lib & Orchestra, Op. 34
Title: Simple Symphony, For String Orchestra, Op. 4
Title: Variations On A Theme By Frank Bridge, For Strings, Op. 10
x

Track List: Britten: War Requiem

Title: War Requiem, For Soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Boys' Voices, Chorus, Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra & Organ, Op. 66
x

Track List: Britten: Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra / Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia (Peter Grimes), etc

Title: Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra (Variations And Fugue On A Theme Of Purcell), For Speaker Ad Lib & Orchestra, Op. 34
Title: Sea Interludes (4) From Peter Grimes, For Orchestra, Op. 33a
Title: Soirées Musicales (Rossini Suite 1), Suite For Orchestra, Op. 9
Title: Matinées Musicales (Rossini Suite No.2), For Orchestra, Op. 24
x

Track List: Gloriana: A Celebration Of Benjamin Britten

Title: Psalm 150, For Children's Chorus & Instruments, Op. 67
Title: Hymn To St. Cecilia, For Chorus, Op. 27
Title: Choral Dances (6) From Gloriana, For Chorus (Or Tenor, Chorus & Harpsichord), Op. 53
Title: Missa Brevis, For Boys' Chorus & Organ In D Major, Op. 63
Title: A Boy Was Born, Choral Variations For Mixed Voices, Op. 3
Title: A Ceremony Of Carols, For Treble Voices (Or Chorus) & Harp, Op. 28
Title: Friday Afternoons, Children's Songs (12) For Children's Chorus & Piano, Op. 7
Title: Rejoice In The Lamb, Festival Cantata For Trumpet, Atb Soloists, Chorus & Organ, Op. 30
x

Track List: The Best Of Britten [Australia]

Title: Simple Symphony, For String Orchestra, Op. 4
Title: Variations On A Theme By Frank Bridge, For Strings, Op. 10
Title: Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra (Variations And Fugue On A Theme Of Purcell), For Speaker Ad Lib & Orchestra, Op. 34
Title: Sea Interludes (4) From Peter Grimes, For Orchestra, Op. 33a

Comments

lkgrebnel
always like Britten
Claire, the bio didn't mislead me a bit. It made it obvious enough for any but the most obtuse (and I'm not the most obtuse knife in the drawer).
sacredfun6
claireburnie : I think the more subtle description in the bio is a little more classy...
claireburnie
Referring to Peter Pears as an intimate in both the personal and professional realms seems to be a bit misleading. They were lovers, and as it isn't so much speculation as fact, I think it is appropriate to indicate it as such.
dscripted
Variations on a Theme is one of my favorite symphonies. I've made a station based on this song. It's both calming and stirring at the same time.
One of my first introduction s to music was Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra," which is still a favorite (or 'favourite' if you're English) ;-)
But there's nothing that can compare with the Four Sea Interludes from 'Peter Grimes."
tcole265
B B is one of the best ever!
tim.the.ench a n t e r . b r o o k s
I haven't heard much of Britten's music before this (Peter Grimes, Sea Interludes). . . i t ' s so deep, and satisfying. His orchestratio n is absolutely fantastic. Most British music I'm not fond of...but this...wow.
woah... this is like thinking music. It gets wheels in your head to turn that you never knew you had, and yet you don't know or even care to know why!
At least, that is how I feel.
Just wanna let them keep going, doing what they do...
Superb

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