Benjamin Britten

With its versatile talent as composer, director, pianist and violist EDWARD BENJAMIN BRITTEN is not only a central figure in the English music culture of the twentieth century, but also one of the brightest names on the world music scene around the middle of the century. His operas Peter Grimes, The Rape of Lucretia, Albert Herring, Billy Budd, The Turn of the Screw, Death in Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the adaptation of the comic ballad The Beggar’s Opera of Gay and Pepusch, determine the profile of the new English opera and become an integral part of the opera repertoire around the world. The War Requiem (written in 1962 for a ceremony consecrating the reconstructed after the bombing cathedral of Coventry) became one of the strongest anti-war works. Among his most popular works are Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell – the so-called “Guide to the Orchestra“, Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, Requiem Symphony, Violin Concerto, Cello Symphony, “Simple Symphony”, etc.

Britten began his piano lessons at the age of 7 and three years later began to play the viola, and at the age of 14 became a composition student at Frank Bridge, then graduated from the Royal College of Music. He began composing from an early age and created hundreds of works in various genres – opera, symphony, choral and solo vocal opuses, chamber ensembles, film music, works for children. Eastern influences were seen and heard in the ballet The Prince of the Pagodas.

However, not everyone in conservative English society accepted Britten’s free, open-minded aesthetics, his cosmopolitan spirit, and his personal life. To gain his independence, the composer founded the English Opera Group in 1947, and the following year he founded a music festival in Aldborough, where his music as well as works by English composers of that time was performed.

In the 1960s, Britten became friends with Shostakovich and Mstislav Rostropovich and they had quite a few collaborations. Britten’s close friendship with Rostropovich inspired the Cello suites, Cello Symphony and Cello Sonata. Britten conducted the first performance outside Russia of Shostakovich’s Fourteenth Symphony, dedicated to him. And Shostakovich was himself the dedicatee of The Prodigal Son, the third and final part of his Parables for Church Performance.

Britten received unconditional worldwide recognition in the 1970s – he became the first winner of the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, and at the end of his life he received the knighthood as Baron Britten, of Aldeburgh in the County of Suffolk. Works commemorating Britten include Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten an orchestral piece written in 1977 by the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

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