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Benjamin Britten

Composer

Biography

Benjamin Britten in action.
Benjamin Britten © Britten Pears Foundation

English composer, conductor and pianist Benjamin Britten (1913–76) was one of the leading musical figures of his generation. Perhaps the greatest of his many legacies is the revival of English opera. His operatic masterpieces include Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, The Turn of the Screw, the Church Parables and Death in Venice. Britten premieres at The Royal Opera House include Billy Budd, Gloriana, Owen Wingrave (stage premiere) and his only ballet, The Prince of the Pagodas.

Britten was born in Lowestoft and began writing music at an early age. He studied at the Royal College of Music with Frank Bridge and began his professional career in the General Post Office Film Unit in 1935. Early successes included Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (1937) and his Piano Concerto (1938). A conscientious objector, in 1939 Britten moved to the USA with the tenor Peter Pears, his lifelong partner and muse; they returned to England in 1942. Works from the American period include his first stage work, Paul Bunyan (1941). The tremendous success of Peter Grimes (1945) won Britten international recognition. For the rest of his life he remained at the forefront of British music, with other great works including War Requiem (1962), Symphony for Cello and Orchestra (1963) and Phaedra (1975).

Britten’s music reflects such diverse influences as English folksong and Balinese gamelan. His music always celebrates and encourages the ingenuity and creativity of his performers, a legacy continued today by the Aldeburgh Festival, which he founded in 1948.

Videos

News and features

Royal Opera House 2018/19 Season announced

20 March 2018
Royal Opera House 2018/19 Season announced

The Royal Ballet and Royal Opera's programme for the coming Season include world premieres, major new productions and classic revivals.

10 of opera’s greatest tenor roles

20 June 2017
10 of opera’s greatest tenor roles

Our favourites of the undisputed kings of opera, from Idomeneo to Peter Grimes via Siegfried and Otello.

10 of opera's greatest bass roles

28 April 2017
10 of opera's greatest bass roles

From dastardly demons to boozy brothel owners – we give the low-down on opera’s best bass roles.

Photos

Clive Bayley as Dansker and Jacques Imbrailo as Billy Budd in Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Christopher Gillett as Red Whiskers and Jacques Imbrailo as Billy Budd in Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Production photo of Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Production photo of Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Benjamin Britten and John Pritchard (conductor) sharing a joke during rehearsals for Gloriana in the Crush Bar of the Royal Opera House

Benjamin Britten

Covent Garden Opera Company in Gloriana (1953)

Covent Garden Opera Company in Gloriana (1953)

Covent Garden Opera Company in Gloriana (1953)

Basil Coleman (producer), Benjamin Britten and Joan Cross during rehearsals for 'Gloriana' (1953) at Orme Square.

Rehearsals for ‘Gloriana’ (1953) in the Crush Bar.

Dancers from Frantic Assembly's training programme, Ignition, in Britten's The Canticles.

Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex in Gloriana

Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex and Mark Stone as Lord Mountjoy in Gloriana

Production photo of Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Jacques Imbrailo as Billy Budd in Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Brindley Sherratt as John Claggart in Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Toby Spence as Captain Edward Fairfax Vere in Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Production photo of Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Covent Garden Opera Company in Gloriana (1953)

Joan Cross, Basil Coleman (producer) and Benjamin Britten during rehearsals for 'Gloriana' (1953) at Orme Square.

Edward Evans and Peter Bray in Britten's The Canticles.

Pianist Julius Drake and tenor Ian Bostridge in Britten's The Canticles.

Edward Evans and Peter Bray in Britten's The Canticles.

Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth I, Lake Laoutaris-Smith as Time and Guilia Pazzaglia as Concord in Gloriana

The Royal Opera's Gloriana

Joan Cross as Elizabeth I in The Royal Opera's original production of Gloriana

Marianela Nunez and Nehemiah Kish in The Prince of the Pagodas

The Prince of the Pagodas

Jacques Imbrailo as Billy Budd and Toby Spence as Captain Edward Fairfax Vere in Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Jacques Imbrailo as Billy Budd in Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Jacques Imbrailo as Billy Budd in Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Jacques Imbrailo as Billy Budd and Alasdair Elliott as Squeak in Billy Budd, The Royal Opera

Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex and Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth I in Gloriana

Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex, Mark Stone as Lord Mountjoy and Kate Royal as Lady Rich in Gloriana

Mark Stone as Lord Mountjoy and Kate Royal as Lady Rich in Gloriana