Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was an English composer, conductor, and pianist; and one of the central figures of Twentieth century music. His most famous piece was the epic War Requiem.
Life and Music
Britten's father was a prosperous oral surgeon in the town of Lowestoft, Suffolk; his mother was a leader in the local choral society.
Britten found in the human voice a special source of inspiration, an affinity that resulted in a remarkable body of work, ranging from operas like Peter Grimes and Death in Venice to song cycles like the Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings to the massive choral work War Requiem.
He also produced much music for orchestra and chamber ensembles, including symphonies, concerti, and chamber and solo works.
When Benjamin's musical aptitude became evident, the family engaged composer Frank Bridge to supervise his musical education.
Britten paid tribute to his teacher in his Op. 10, the Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge.
Britten left England in 1939 as war loomed over Europe. He spent four years in the United States and Canada, his compositional pace barely slackening, evidenced by the production of works such as the Sinfonia da Requiem (1940), the song cycle Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo (1940), and his first effort for the stage, Paul Bunyan (1940-1941).
The tenor Peter Pears was Britten's closest intimate, both personally and professionally, from the late '30s to the composer's death.
With a Koussevitzky Commission backing him, the composer wrote the enormously successful opera Peter Grimes.
Over the next several decades Britten wrote a dozen more operas, several of which became instant and permanent fixtures of the repertoire.
Britten suffered a stroke during heart surgery in 1971, which resulted in something of a slowdown in his creative activities. Yet he continued to compose until his death in 1976.
Did you know?
His most famous piece, which some would say is the crowning pinnacle of his entire career - is the War Requiem, premiered in 1962 to celebrate the opening of the new Coventry Cathedral.