I for one will be performing his War Requiem later in the year among others. Who is this Benjamin character and what pieces should I go and see? Let me illuminate some trivia and point out some highlights.
Benjamin Britten emerged into the world on 22 November 1913 in Lowestoft, an English fishing town: for trivia's sake the most easterly point of the United Kingdom. His Father Robert Britten was a dental surgeon and his Mother Edith is said to have been an amateur singer and had some musical ambition for her children. Benjamin had two older sisters and an older brother.
He began playing music and composing at a very early age and is said to have had a unique compositional voice from a very young age and at 16 years of age he received a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music (RCM) for both Piano and Composition.
At the RCM he studied composition with the British composer John Ireland and by the age of 18 produced his Opus 1 Sinfonietta, already showing much of Britten's characteristic flair for musical clarity.
Following this, Britten began working for the British General Post Office writing incidental music for documentaries. Here Britten worked with Wystan Auden, a British writer who later immigrated to the United States in 1946. This led to collaborations on several works including one of my Favourite of Britten's Choral works, Hymn to St. Cecilia. As a note of trivia the feast day of St.Cecilia in the church calendar coincides with Britten's birth.
The work which brought Benjamin Britten into the lime light of Britain's musical world was his orchestral work, the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. This was originally written for a documentary but has outlived the voice over and is now performed, standing on its own.
Other orchestral works of particular note are his War Requiem and his Cello Sonata.
Core claim to fame
Britten's core claim to fame though are his Opera's, which rather than the dramatic declarations of love as is the clichÃ© set by many of Europe's previous two centuries of opera, Britten's opera's engage subjects much closer to painful experiences of life.
While this is keeping in step with a common trend throughout the 20th century Britten's musical clarity portrays the subject matter masterfully so if you get the opportunity to see Peter Grimes or Billy Budd (among others) I recommend it, although do be warned that they are confronting in their intention.
There is much speculation as to how Britten's personal life influenced his music. For much of his later professional life he lived in Aldeburgh with his life partner and often collaborator Peter Pears. Many suggest that the lack of social acceptance that Benjamin Britten went through living in Britain in those years is seen in the characters of his operas.
Britten and Pears started the Aldeburgh festival and in 1976 Britten accepted a life peerage, the first composer to be given the honour. Later that year Baron Britten of Aldeburgh passed away on 4 December and was buried in the church yard of his parish church in Aldeburgh aged 63. In 1978 A memorial stone was unveiled in the North Choir aisle of Westminster Abbey.
Britten wrote many other works besides those I've mentioned, I recommend the reader keep an eye out and get to some 'concerts' programming his works this year.
Sam Gillespie is an Undergraduate Composition student and a computer programmer based in Sydney
Sam Gillespie's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-gillespie.html