Britten (1913 - 1976)

Vital StatisticsBritten

Born: November 22, 1913, Lowestoft, Suffolk, England 
Died: December 4, 1976, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England
Nationality: English
Genre: 20th Century


Benjamin Britten was a central figure of 20th-century British classical music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. His best-known works include the opera Peter Grimes (1945), the War Requiem (1962) and the orchestral showpiece The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1945).

Born in Suffolk, the son of a dentist, Britten showed talent from an early age and began composing when he was five years old. In 1930 he entered the Royal College of Music in London on a composition scholarship and studied with the composer Frank Bridge.

In 1935 Britten composed film music for the General Post Office Film Unit, which made public-information documentaries. At the outset of World War Two, due in part to Britten's pacifism, he travelled to Canada and America. In 1942, he returned to England to work on his opera Peter Grimes, which premiered at Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1945, and subsequently leapt to international fame.

Over the next 28 years, he wrote 14 more operas, establishing himself as one of the leading 20th-century composers in the genre. In addition to large-scale operas for Sadler's Wells and Covent Garden, he wrote "chamber operas" for small forces, suitable for performance in venues of modest size. Among the best known of these is The Turn of the Screw (1954). Britten's other works range from orchestral to choral, solo vocal, chamber and instrumental as well as film music. He took a great interest in writing music for children and amateur performers.

In 1951, for the Festival of Britain, a national exhibition that promoted post-war recovery, Britten was commissioned to compose the opera Billy Budd. Fin 1953, for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, he wrote Gloriana. In 1962, another important commissioned work premiered: the War Requiem, written for the re-consecration of Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed in WWII.

During the rest of the 1960s Britten returned to instrumental music, works on smaller scale and more severe pieces, such as the "Church parable" operas. In the 1970s he composed his last works before his death in 1976. These included the opera Death in Venice, the String Quartet No. 3 and the dramatic cantata Phaedra.

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