Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten's life spanned a period of 63 years as composer, conductor and pianist. Born in Lowestoft, England on November 22, 1913, he was exposed to music at a very early age by his mother, who was a amateur singer. As predominantly a vocal composer, his operas and song cycles won international critical acclaim, particularly with the collaboration with the English tenor, Peter Pears.

He began composing his first works at the age of five, and his precocity was to stay with him throughout his youth. At age eleven, he was discovered by Frank Bridge, who was to be a long time lasting influence. A famous dedication to Bridge was the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, composed in 1937 for the Boyd Neel String Orchestra's concert at the Salzburg Festival. Bridge nurtured Britten's early compositional style which included a distinct European flavor evident in the Bridge Variations.

        Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Benjamin Britten
'It is quite a good thing to please people, even if only for today. That is what we should aim at - pleasing people today as seriously as we can, and letting the future look after itself.'

Benjamin Britten, 1964, on receiving the Aspen Award.
Kennedy believes Britten to be a  "key figure in the growth of British music culture in the second half of the twentieth century, and his effect on everything from opera to the revitalization of music education is hard to overestimate". 25 years after the death of Britten, musicians and scholars are performing and studying Britten with an increasing vitality which creates a firm future for the music of such a prodigious composer.

D. M. Key (Denver, 2001)

was evoked by troping the Latin text with a venacular commentary." The War Requiem not only represents the crowning synthesis of Britten's mature compositional style, but it also conveys his extreme pascifist beliefs. War poet Wilfred Owen's words are:

                'My subject is war and the pity of war'

The truly emotional premiere affected both performers and audience alike. The baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was:

                '...completely undone... Dead friends and past
                suffering arose in my mind.'

According to Elizabeth Wilson, Shostakovich "... intensely admired Britten's
War Requiem
, placing it on a level with Mahler's Song of the Earth." In his later life, Britten made several visits to the Soviet Union to visit his close friends Shostakovich, Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya. Shostakovich and Britten formed a wonderful friendship, the great Russian composer even dedicating his Fourteenth Symphony to Britten.  Britten was the one Western composer with whom Shostakovich felt a genuine rapport and kinship.  Britten's friendship with cellist Mstislav Rostropovich was also warm and productive, and led Britten to compose many works for the cellist, including the Cello Suites, Cello Sonata (1961) and Symphony for Cello and Orchestra (1963- rev. 1964).
As well as his continued operatic output and a new genre of musical theatre in the 3 Church Parables, Britten, after years of contemplation and planning, responded to the commission to compose a work for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral- a work which has been termed the 'pinnacle of his entire output'- the War Requiem (1962). Michael Kennedy commented, "An ingenious medievalism

Benjamin Britten's desire for a festival rooted in English village life and the work of amateurs, yet capable of attracting performers of high international acclaim, led to the establishment of the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. The Festival not only revived neglected works which Britten believed worthy of reappraisal, but it also featured a prolific output of works of various kinds, in many of which he took part as conductor or pianist.
On returning to England, Britten and Pears settled in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, where they resided for the rest of their lives. His return to England was a big turning point not only in his vocal output, but also in a much needed revival of opera in England. Although conceived in America, Peter Grimes was composed on his return to England and premiered
Britten entered the Royal College of Music in 1930 and studied piano with Arthur Benjamin and composition with John Ireland. Britten claimed his time at the College not to be very productive, partly because of the influence of College director Sir Hugh Allen and the musical predominance of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams was professor of composition at the College, and disliked "brilliance", and "technical virtuosity for its own sake", and showed great distaste for the modern
at Sadler's Wells on June 7 1945, a day of extreme importance to English music. Many more operas followed including, to name a few, Billy Budd (1952), Gloriana (1953), The Turn of the Screw (1955), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1960), and Death in Venice (1975). Britten's operas formed the embodiment of a revived English musical theatre not seen since the days of Purcell.
Britten and Pears
Pears and Britten
Benjamin Britten
compositional style of Frank Bridge. After his studies at Prince Consort Road, Britten worked and composed film documentary scores for the General Post Office. Among the best known scores are Coal Face and Night Mail written in 1936, It was at the GPO unit that Britten met his friend, poet W. H. Auden.  Auden along with many other artists emigrated to America in search of freedom and security. With the threat of war in Europe, and Britten and Pears being conscientious objectors, they followed Auden to North America in 1939, staying there until 1942. Britten's stay in America was at times challenging, but also productive, with the composition of such works as Les Illuminations, Diversions for Piano, Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, Paul Bunyan and Hymn to St. Cecelia, composed on his voyage back to the UK in 1942.