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Benjamin Britten

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 the 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

Five operas adapted from plays: From stage to stave (and back again)

Five operas adapted from plays: From stage to stave (and back again)

7 July 2014

Composers have long been inspired by the work of playwrights.

Opera's Russian Dolls: the opera-within-an-opera

Opera's Russian Dolls: the opera-within-an-opera

27 June 2014

Composers from Purcell to Turnage bring the audience onstage by writing them into the music.

ENO celebrates the life of Lord Harewood

ENO celebrates the life of Lord Harewood

20 June 2014

English National Opera hosts a special gala performance in celebration of the life of a crucial figure in British opera.

Britten and W.H. Auden: A brief but bright creative partnership

Britten and W.H. Auden: A brief but bright creative partnership

14 February 2014

The collaboration that resulted in American folktale opera, Paul Bunyan.

Operatic Pacifism

Operatic Pacifism

30 January 2014

In preparation for English Touring Opera's production of King Priam, we look at how pacifist ideals have influenced opera in the last century.

Listen: Gerald Finley on Parsifal, Wagner and the secrets of keeping his voice in good shape


Listen: Gerald Finley on Parsifal, Wagner and the secrets of keeping his voice in good shape


29 November 2013

The Canadian baritone speaks to BBC Radio 3’s In Tune about The Royal Opera’s new production.

Photos

Benjamin Britten © Hans Wild 1968

Benjamin Britten © Britten Pears Foundation

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

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

Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth I, Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex and Patricia Bardon as Countess of Essex in Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

Kate Royal as Lady Rich, Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex. Patricia Bardon as the Countess of Essex and Mark Stone as Lord Mountjoy in Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

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

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

Rehearsals for ‘Gloriana’ (1953) in the Crush Bar. © 1953 ROH / Roger Wood

Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex, Mark Stone as Lord Mountjoy and Kate Royal as Lady Rich in Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex in Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex and Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth I in Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth I in Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

Mark Stone as Lord Mountjoy and Kate Royal as Lady Rich in Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth I, Lake Laoutaris-Smith as Time and Guilia Pazzaglia as Concord in Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

The Royal Opera's Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth I and Jeremy Carpenter as Robert Cecil in Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

The Royal Opera's Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth I, Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex and Mark Stone as Lord Mountjoy in Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex and Mark Stone as Lord Mountjoy in Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

The Royal Opera's Gloriana © ROH / Clive Barda 2013

Composer Benjamin Britten © Hans Wild 1968

Joan Cross as Elizabeth I in The Royal Opera's original production of Gloriana © Roger Wood Collection at Royal Opera House Collections

Edward Evans and Peter Bray in Britten's The Canticles. © ROH / Tristram Kenton 2013

Dancers from Frantic Assembly's training programme, Ignition, in Britten's The Canticles. © ROH / Tristram Kenton 2013

Edward Evans and Peter Bray in Britten's The Canticles. © ROH / Tristram Kenton 2013

Pianist Julius Drake and tenor Ian Bostridge in Britten's The Canticles. © ROH / Tristram Kenton 2013

Benjamin Britten with Peter Pears in Brooklyn 1940 © Britten 100

Covent Garden Opera Company in Gloriana (1953) © Roger Wood / ROH Collections

Covent Garden Opera Company in Gloriana (1953) © Roger Wood / ROH Collections

Covent Garden Opera Company in Gloriana (1953) © Roger Wood / ROH Collections

Covent Garden Opera Company in Gloriana (1953) © Roger Wood / ROH Collections

Covent Garden Opera Company in Gloriana (1953) © Roger Wood / ROH Collections

The Prince of the Pagodas © ROH 2012

Joan Cross and Jennifer Vyvyan in Gloriana © Roger Wood/ROH 1953

Marianela Nunez and Nehemiah Kish in The Prince of the Pagodas © Johan Persson/ROH 2012