Benjamin Britten was a famous English composer and pianist. Known for his opera and chamber music, Britten was the first English composer to receive a life peerage for his work.
Edward Benjamin Britten was born on 22nd November 1913 in a fishing port in Suffolk, England. Since a very young age, Britten was trained extensively in music. His mother, Edith Britten, was a gifted musician who was also the secretary of the Lowestoft Musical Society. She gave her son his first lessons in piano and composition when he was only four years old. When Britten was seven, he received piano lessons from Ethel Astle, who was a sister at his dame school. He also received lessons in violin from Audrey Alston when he was ten. Britten was an extraordinary student who was active in various sports. His skill in music was noted by Audrey Alston, who encouraged him to study with Frank Bridge; a composer famous for his orchestral suite called ‘The Sea’. At the age of seventeen, Britten went to the Royal College of Music on a composition scholarship. There, he won the Sullivan Prize and the Cobbett Prize. He was greatly impressed by the music of great composers such as Gustav Mahler, Igor Stravinsky, and Dmitri Shostakovich. He started professional work with the BBC when he was called to write the film score for “The King’s Stamp”. Britten went on to contribute for the film scores of ‘Coal Face’ and “Our Hunting Father’s”, along with scores for almost 40 other films and radio broadcasts. In 1937, Britten payed tribute to his teacher Frank Bridge by writing ‘Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge’ which garnered immediate success. In 1939, Britten moved to the Canada, and then to New York shortly thereafter, citing the success of his friends and colleagues in the region as the reason. In 1940, he wrote ‘Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo’ along with the ‘Sinfonia da Requiem’, which earned him plenty of praise and acclaim. However, in 1942, Britten returned to England to pursue an opera commission. In 1944 he joined the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company. While working with the company he wrote the opera titled ‘Peter Grimes’, which was about the tragic story of a fisherman. Peter Grimes ultimately earned him international fame with its great success. In the same period, Britten also wrote “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”, which went on to become Britten’s most popular work. He then form his own opera company, which he was called the ‘English Opera Group’. In 1948, Britten inaugurated the now famous Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts. He wrote operas throughout the 1950s and the 1960s. 1962 would see the premiere of a work that most people would see as Britten’s ultimate masterpiece, the enthralling opera titled ‘War Requiem’.
Benjamin Britten died of heart failure on 4th December 1976. His extremely prolific career made him one of the most decorated personalities not only in English Music, but also in English history.