November 22, 1913
Lowestoft, Suffolk, England
December 4, 1976 in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England
Also Known As:
Benjamin Britten was a conductor, pianist and prolific English composer of the 20th century who was instrumental in establishing a music festival in England. He and his long-time companion, Peter Pears, founded the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. Britten wrote "A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra." His father was a dentist, his mother an amateur singer. He was the youngest of 4 children.
Type of Compositions:
At age 5 Britten was already composing. He first studied the piano and then the viola under private instructors. At age 10 he met composer Frank Bridge during the Norwich Festival, it is Bridge from whom he received further instruction and exposure. He studied at the Gresham's School for 2 years. Britten entered the Royal College of Music when he was 17, studying composition and piano under Harold Samuel, John Ireland and Arthur Benjamin.
Britten wanted to study under Alban Berg but was discouraged by his parents. In 1935 he started working for General Post Office; composing music for films they produced and collaborating with poet W.H. Auden. Britten's other influences came from the music of Verdi and Mozart as well as his companion Peter Pears.
Among his known works are "War Requiem," "The Turn of the Screw," "Hymn to St. Cecilia," "Peter Grimes," "Rejoice in the Lamb," "Cantata Misericordium," "Owen Wingrave," "Billy Budd," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Death in Venice," "Ceremony of Carols," "Serenade," "Festival Te Deum," "Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo," "Curlew River," "The Rape of Lucretia," "Albert Herring," "The Little Sweep," "Gloriana" and "The Prodigal Son."
Many of Britten's compositions were written for his friend, the tenor singer Peter Pears. The text to "War Requiem" came from a poem written by a World War 1 soldier named Wilfred Owen. He received a gold medal from the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1964. In 1965 Britten became a member of the prestigious Order of Merit. He won the Ravel Prize in 1974. In 1946 Britten's "Peter Grimes" had its American premiere at Tanglewood with Leonard Bernstein as conductor.
Watch a performance by Peter Pears with Benjamin Britten on the piano courtesy of YouTube.