"Composing is like driving down a foggy road toward a house. Slowly you see more details of the house-the color of the slates and bricks, the shape of the windows. The notes are the bricks and the mortar of the house."

Happy birthday Benjamin Britten!

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Benjamin Britten (November 22, 1913—December 4, 1976) was a British composer and pianist. He wrote orchestral music, operas, and many vocal pieces, as well as film scores. He is considered one of foremost figures in 20th century British classical music.

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Britten was born in Suffolk, England to Robert Victor Britten Edith Rhoda Britten. His mother used music to hold the family together. She gave him his first piano and notation lessons. His father refused to have a gramophone or a radio, so Britten learned about music only in live contexts.

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Britten's formal education began at a dame school. He was given piano lessons by the sister of the woman who ran the school and he continued lessons with her even after he moved on to prep school. He also began viola lessons. (Image source)

While in prep school, he came to compose music prolifically. In 1924, he attended a concert conducted by composer Frank Bridge. He was very affected by his piece, The Sea. Three years later, his viola teacher (who was a friend of Bridge's) introduced the two and Britten began to take lessons from him.

In 1928, he went to study at the Royal College of Music but did not enjoy his time there. While he was there, he won a composition scholarship, followed by the Sullivan Prize for composition, the Cobbett Prize for chamber music, and the Ernest Farrar Prize for composition (twice). While at RCM, he studied with John Ireland and Arthur Benjamin.

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His first piece of music to garner significant attention was the Sinfonietta, Op. 1 (1932). He also wrote two sets of choral variations called A Boy was Born and Friday Afternoons.

In 1935, he was offered the opportunity to write the score for the documentary film The King's Stamp. He went on to become a regular contributor to the film group, writing music for the films Coal Face, Night Mail and several others.

 

Britten was enormously prolific during the late 1930s. Along with film scores, he wrote music for theater productions such as The Ascent of F6 (1936), On the Frontier (1938) and Johnson Over Jordan (1939).

In 1937, Britten's mother died. As he had been extremely devoted to her, it wasn't until this time that he began to forge close relationships with others. One of those relationships was with tenor Peter Pears, who would become his lifelong companion.

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In 1939, he moved to the United States. While in the U.S. Britten composed his first opera and several song cycles for Pears, including Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo.

In 1942, Britten and Pears returned to England. A pacifist since his youth, Britten applied for status as a conscientious objector, preventing him from having to serve in the military. (Image source)

He wrote The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra in 1945.

Britten wrote the opera Peter Grimes, which became a hit at the box office. He followed with The Rape of Lucretia and Albert Herring. He continued to write operas throughout the 1950s.

Britten was appointed a Companion of Honour in 1952. He was honored with the Order of Merit in 1965, and was a life peerage in 1976.

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Selected works:

 

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Saturday, 22 November 2014
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