Benjamin Britten, classical music composer

Benjamin Britten image

Benjamin Britten

Biography

A leading figure in British classical music during the 20th century, Edward Benjamin Britten was born on November 22, 1913, the youngest child of Robert Victor Britten, a dentist, and Edith Rhoda Hockey, a talented amateur musician. Edith gave Benjamin his first music lessons. The young boy showed an early aptitude for music and made his first attempts at composition at the age of five. When he was seven years old, he began piano lessons with a teacher at his pre-prep school, and at ten, viola lessons with Audrey Alston.

Alston was a family friend of the composer Frank Bridge. When Britten heard Bridge's orchestral poem The Sea in 1927, he was, in his own words, "knocked sideways." Alston arranged a meeting with Bridge, who then took on Britten as his pupil in January 1928. In 1930, Britten won a Composition Scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he studied with John Ireland and Arthur Benjamin. Once in London, he became acquainted with the music of Igor Stravinsky, Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich, the latter of which would be a close friend.

Britten was extremely prolific during his formative years as a composer, producing approximately eight hundred works and fragments before his first published compositions. His music began to attract attention beginning in 1930 with A Hymn to the Virgin, and later with Sinfonietta, op. 1 in 1932 and the choral variations A Boy was Born in 1933. In April 1935, he was approached by the film director Alberto Cavalcanti to compose a film score for the documentary The King's Stamp. During this time, he met the poet W. H. Auden. Britten and Auden would collaborate on several future compositions. In 1937, he met the tenor Peter Pears, with whom he began a lifelong relationship and composed many works for.

In 1939, Britten, with Pears, followed Auden to the United States where he composed his first operetta, Paul Bunyan, with a libretto by Auden. The Violin Concerto, op. 15 and Sinfonia da Requiem, op. 20 also appeared while the composer was in America. In 1942, however, with war raging across much of the European continent, Britten and Pears returned to England. Britten applied for recognition as a conscientious objector. He was granted only non-combatant service in the military but eventually obtain an unconditional exemption on appeal.

Throughout 1944, Britten worked on the opera Peter Grimes at his home in Suffolk, which he had bought with his inheritance following the death of his mother. The premiere of the opera took place in 1945. It surpassed all of Britten's achievements so far and immediately thrust him onto the international stage. After an unsuccessful collaboration with the Glyndebourne English Opera Company, Britten and Pears, along with librettist Eric Crozier and designer John Piper, formed the English Opera Group with the express purpose of presenting new operas on tour. This, in turn, lead to the inspiration for the Aldeburgh Festival, which began in June 1948 with performances of Britten's comic opera Albert Herring and the cantata Saint Nicolas. The Festival was an immediate success and consistently featured new works from Britten until the composer's death.

In 1953, Britten composed his Gloriana to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and was also appointed a Companion of Honour in the Coronation Honours. A tour with Pears later that decade brought Britten into contact with Balinese gamelan music and Japanese Noh plays, both of which influenced his music. Despite the escalating tensions of the Cold War, Britten developed close friendships with some of Russia's leading musical figures. He composed his Cello Suites, Cello Symphony and Cello Sonata for Mstislav Rostropovich and dedicated The Prodigal Son to Dmitri Shostakovich.

In his final years, Britten's health began to take a turn for the worse. An operation in 1973 left him partially disabled and ended his career as a performer and conductor. He continued to compose, however, though his music became increasingly sparse in texture. On July 2, 1976, he became the first composer to be honored with a life peerage, as Baron Britten, of Aldeburgh in the County of Suffolk. Yet, his health continued to deteriorate and in November of that year he ceased to compose. On December 4, 1976 he died of congestive heart failure at his home.


Composer Title Date Action
Benjamin Britten Phantasy Quartet, Op. 2 04/01/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten A Charm of Lullabies, Op. 41 06/09/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten There is no Rose 09/10/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten This Little Babe 09/10/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten That Yonge Child 09/10/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten In Freezing Winter 09/10/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Balululow 09/10/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Recession 09/10/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Procession 09/10/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Spring Carol 09/10/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Deo Gracias 09/10/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten As Dew in Aprille 09/10/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Wolcum Yule 09/10/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten On This Island 01/15/2009 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten The Ship of Rio 05/26/2010 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten At day-close in November, from Winter Words, op. 52 09/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten The little old table, from Winter Words, op. 52 09/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten The choirmaster’s burial, from Winter Words, op. 52 09/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Proud songsters, from Winter Words, op. 52 09/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Before life and after, from Winter Words, op. 52 09/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Winter Words, op. 52 09/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Let the florid music praise!, from On This Island, Op. 11 11/05/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Now the leaves are falling fast, from On This Island, Op. 11 11/05/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Seascape, from On This Island, Op. 11 11/05/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Nocturne, from On This Island, Op. 11 11/05/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten As it is, plenty, from On This Island, Op. 11 11/05/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Lachrymae, Op. 48 12/01/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten String Quartet No. 2, Op. 36 09/27/2011 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten String Quartet No. 3, Op. 94 12/26/2012 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Cello Sonata in C major, Op. 65 05/29/2013 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Lachrymae, Op. 48 11/06/2013 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Waltz Op. 3 No. 1 12/09/2013 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Early Morning Bathe, from Holiday Diary, Op. 5 No. 1 12/09/2013 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Night Piece 12/09/2013 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Three Divertimenti 04/17/2016 Play Add to playlist
Benjamin Britten Cello Sonata, Op. 65 10/05/2016 Play Add to playlist