(1913 - 1976)
Britten is born at Lowestoft, 22 November 1913, and died at Aldeburgh,
studied with Frank Bridge as a boy and in 1930 entered the RCM.
1934 he heard Wozzeck and planned to study with Berg, but opposition at
home stopped him.
next year he began working for the GPO Film Unit, where one of his
collaborators was Auden: together they worked on concert works as well,
Auden's social criticism being matched by a sharply satirical and virtuoso
musical style (orchestral song cycle Our Hunting Fathers 1936).
and Mahler were important influences, but Britten's effortless technique
gave his early music a high personal definition, notably shown in
Variations for strings, 1937; Piano Concerto,
1938; Violin Concerto, 1939) and songs (Les illuminations, setting Rimbaud
for high voice and strings, 1939).
1939 he left England for the U.S.A., with his lifelong companion Peter Pears;
there he wrote his first opera, to Auden's libretto (Paul Bunyan,
1942 he returned and, partly stimulated by Purcell, began to concentrate
on settings of English verse (anthem Rejoice in the Lamb and Serenade for
tenor, horn and strings, both 1943).
His String Quartet no.2 (1945), with
its huge concluding chaconne, also came out of his Purcellian interests,
but the major work of this period was Peter Grimes (1945), which signaled
a new beginning in English opera.
next operas were all written for comparatively small resources (The Rape
of Lucretia, 1946; Albert Herring, 1947; a version of The Beggar's Opera
1948; The Little Sweep, 1949), for the company that became established as
the English Opera Group.
the same time he began writing music for the Aldeburgh Festival, which he
and Pears founded in 1948 in the Suffolk town where they had settled
(cantata St. Nicolas, 1948; Lachrymae for viola and piano, 1949).
this prolific period he also composed large concert works (The Young
Person's Guide to the Orchestra, 1946; Spring Symphony with soloists and
choir, 1949) and songs.
operas show an outward urge to ever new subjects: village comedy in Albert
Herring, psychological conflict in Billy Budd (1951), historical
reconstruction in Gloriana (1953), a tale of ghostly possession in The
Turn of the Screw (1954), nocturnal magic in A Midsummer Night's Dream
(1960), a struggle between family history and individual responsibility in
Owen Wingrave (1971) and, most centrally, obsession with a doomed ideal in
Death in Venice (1973), the last three works being intermediate in scale
between the chamber format of Herring and The Screw, and the symphonic
fullness of Budd and Gloriana, both written for Covent Garden.
with a widening range of subject matter was a widening musical style,
which came to include 12-note elements (Turn of the Screw) and a
heterophony that owed as much to oriental music directly as it did to
Mahler (cycle of 'church parables', or ritualized small-scale operas:
Curlew River, The Burning Fiery Furnace, The Prodigal Son.
of these dramatic works were written for the Aldeburgh Festival, as were
many of the instrumental and vocal works Britten produced for favored
Rostropovich he wrote the Cello Symphony (1963) as well as a sonata and
three solo suites; for Pears there was the Hardy cycle Winter Words (1953)
among many other songs, and also a central part in the War Requiem
closing masterpiece, however, was a return to the abstract in the String
Quartet no.3 (1975).
Britten was appointed a Companion of Honour in 1952,
to the Order of Merit in 1965, and was awarded a life peerage in 1976.