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Britten, Benjamin (22nd November 1913-4th December 1976)

He is a composer, violist, pianist and conductor born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England, who showed his interest in music from a very young age and started wrote many of his own compositions when only seven years old.

Frank Bridge gave him private lessons from 1928 and in 1930 he took his studies at the Royal College of Music where his teachers includes under Arthur Benjamin, John Ireland and Ralph Vaughan Williams.  He had wanted to take further studies with Alban Berg in Vienna but for some reason his parents held him back at the suggestion of College staff.

This didn’t hold him back though as by the 1930s he had already written around 800 works and first pieces that became publicly noticed were his 1930 “Sinfonietta, Opus 1” and the 1934 “A Boy Was Born” which he wrote for the BBC Singers to perform.

In 1935 he began collaboration with W.H. Auden and in 1937 he met the singer Peter Pears who would become another collaborator and partner for the rest of his life.  Traveling to America with W.H. Auden and Peter Pears in 1939 he composed the operetta, Paul BunyanVariations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Sinfonia da Requiem, Violin Concerto and song cycles.

He became a conscientious objector once he had returned to the UK in 1942 and wrote choral works such as “Hymn to St. Cecilia” who is the patron saint of music; the 22nd November aside from being his birthday is also St. Cecilia’s Feast Day.  He premiered Peter Grimes at Sadler’s Wells in 1945 and The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra in 1946 which was written for an educational film.

He effectively withdrew from the London scene and established the English Opera Group in 1946 and the Aldeburgh Festival followed in 1948 to become a vehicle for his own music to be performed.  1951 saw the appearance of the operas Billy Budd and The Turn of the Screw and in 1953; when the Coronation Honours were awarded; he was made a Companion of Honour.

In the 1950s he became influenced by Eastern music after having toured the area and this resulted in the ballet The Prince of the Pagodas and Curlew River among other pieces.  The 1960s came around and he became close friends with Dmitri Shostakovich, whose Fourteenth Symphony he conducted and who he dedicated his The Prodigal Son to.  Another close friend was Mstislav Rostropovich, who he dedicated his Cello Symphony, Cello Sonata and Cello Suites to.

1962 won him the most acclaim though when his composition War Requiem, which he wrote for Coventry Cathedral’s consecration after it had been reconstructed, became possibly his most successful work winning him three Grammy Awards in 1963 and a BRIT Award in 1977.  Once again his contribution to music was recognized in 1965 when he was awarded the Order of Merit.

As the 1970s drew in he became increasingly unwell and his compositions came few and far between.   Although having open-heart surgery in 1973 he did compose his opera Death in Venice that same year followed by the 1974 Suite on English Folk Songs and the 1976 cantata Phaedra.  Although having turned down a knighthood in previous years, he became Baron Britten of Aldebugh after deciding to accept a life peerage bestowed on him on 2ndJuly 1976.

He died of heart failure at his home just a few months later at the age of 63.  A sculpture entitled “The Scallop” was erected on Aldenburgh’s beach in his honour.  A catalogue of has works began being worked on by the Britten-Pears Foundation and University of Anglia in 2005, with an estimated completion in 2013.   This has resulted in his compositions having now been assigned the identifying “BTC” along with the Opus Nos.