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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

Production photo of Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Production photo of Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Rosie Aldridge as Russian Nanny in Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Leo Dixon as Tadzio and Mark Padmore as Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Leo Dixon as Tadzio in Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Gerald Finley as the Hotel Barber and Mark Padmore as Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Mark Padmore as Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Leo Dixon as Tadzio in Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Simon Johns, Dominic Barrand and Marcos James as Gondoliers with Mark Padmore as Gustav von Aschenbach in rehearsal for Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Mark Padmore as Gustav von Aschenbach in rehearsal for Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Leo Dixon as Tadzio in rehearsal for Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

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

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

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.

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

Production photo of Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Production photo of Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Production photo of Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Leo Dixon as Tadzio and Mark Padmore as Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Mark Padmore as Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice, The Royal Opera

Elizabeth McGorian as the Lady of the Pearls, Leo Dixon as Tadzio and Mark Padmore as Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice, The Royal Opera