Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, on the east coast of England, on 22 November 1913. Although he was already composing vigorously as a child, he nonetheless felt the importance of some solid guidance and in 1928 turned to the composer Frank Bridge; two years later he went to the Royal College of Music in London, studying with Arthur Benjamin, Harold Samuel and John Ireland. While still a student, he wrote his official Op. 1, the Sinfonietta for chamber ensemble, and the Phantasy Quartet for oboe and string trio, and in 1936 he composed Our Hunting Fathers, an ambitious song-cycle for soprano and orchestra, which confirmed Britten's virtuosic vocal and instrumental technique. He was already earning his living as a composer, having joined the GPO (Post Office) Film Unit the previous year; the collaboration he began there with the poet W. H. Auden was to prove an important one throughout his career.

Britten found himself in the United States at the outset of World War Two and stayed there for three more years, returning to Britain in 1942. In America he produced a number of important works, among them the orchestral Sinfonia da Requiem, the song-cycle Les Illuminations for high voice and strings, and his Violin Concerto. With the opera Paul Bunyan he also made his first essay in a genre that would be particular important to him.

Back in Britain, where as a conscientious objector he was excused military service, he began work on the piece that would establish him beyond question as the pre-eminent British composer of his generation the opera Peter Grimes, premiered to an ecstatic reaction on 7 June 1945. The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell a cornerstone of the orchestral repertoire was first performed in the following year. Indeed, Britten now composed one major work after another, among them the operas The Rape of Lucretia (1946), Albert Herring (1947), Billy Budd (1951), Gloriana (1953), The Turn of the Screw (1954), Noye's Fludde (1957), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1960), Owen Wingrave (1970-71) and Death in Venice (1971-73); the Nocturne for tenor and orchestra (1958), the War Requiem (1961-62), a Cello Symphony (1963) for Rostropovich and his orchestral Suite on English Folk Tunes (1974).

Britten's importance in post-War British cultural life was enhanced by his founding of the English Opera Group in 1946 and the Aldeburgh Festival two years later. His career as a composer was matched by his outstanding ability as a performer: he was both a refined pianist and a spontaneous and fluent conductor his Mozart was particularly highly esteemed. Britten's later career was clouded by bouts of ill-health, culminating in heart disease. He never fully recovered from open-heart surgery in 1973, and died on 4 December 1976, at the age of 63, a few months after being appointed a life peer the first composer ever to know that honour.

Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes
Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1933-1934 Simple Symphony 4.00 stars LP
Benjamin Britten - Simple Symphony Comments:
Simple: Has been written for a school orchestra

The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra cond. David Zinman
1936 Divertimenti for String Quaret 3.50 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Belcea Quartet
1937 Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge 4.00 stars LP
Benjamin Britten - Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge Comments:
For string orchestra
English Chamber Orchestra cond. Benjamin Britten
1937 Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
For string orchestra
BBC Symphony Orchestra cond. Andrew Davis
1939 Les Illuminations 4.00 stars LP
Benjamin Britten - Les Illuminations Comments:
Peter Pears - Tenor
English Chamber Orchestra cond. Benjamin Britten
1939 Les Illuminations 4.00 stars CD
Benjamin Britten - Les Illuminations Comments:
Patrice Michaels - Soprano
Czech National Symphony Orchestra cond. Paul Freeman
1940 Sinfonia da Requiem 4.00 stars LP
Benjamin Britten - Sinfonia da Requiem Comments:
New Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Benjamin Britten
1941 String Quartet No 1 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Belcea Quartet
1942 Four Sea Interludes, From 'Peter Grimes' 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
BBC Symphony Orchestra cond. Andrew Davis
1942 Four Sea Interludes, From 'Peter Grimes' 4.00 stars DVD-R
Comments:

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra cond.Kirill Karabits.

Recorded from BBC Proms 2015

1943 Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra 4.50 stars LP
Benjamin Britten - Serenade Opus 31 for Tenor, Horn and strings + Young Persons Guide Comments:
Britten's best known work.

London Symphony Orchestra - conducted by Benjamin Britten
1943 Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra 4.00 stars LP
Comments:
Concertgebouw Orkest cond. Bernard Haitink
1943 Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra 4.50 stars CD
Benjamin Britten - Serenade Opus 31 for Tenor, Horn and strings + Young Persons Guide Comments:
Britten's best known work.

Beautiful recorded with Dame Edna Everage as a guide

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra cond. Jihn Lanchberry

1943 Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra 4.50 stars CD
Comments:
BBC Symphony Orchestra cond. Andrew Davis
1943 Serenade Opus 31 for Tenor, Horn and Strings 4.50 stars LP
Benjamin Britten - Serenade Opus 31 for Tenor, Horn and strings + Young Persons Guide Comments:
The Serenade is Britten's most beautiful work. The performance will probably never be bettered.

Tenor - Peter Pears
Horn - Barry Tuckwell
London Symphony Orchestra - conducted by Benjamin Britten
1945 String Quartet No 2 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Belcea Quartet
1949 Spring Symphony 4.00 stars LP
Benjamin Britten - Spring Symphony Comments:
Solist, Choir and Orchestra
Royal Opera House Covent Garden
condonducted by Benjamin Britten
1952 Six Metamorphoses for Oboe Solo 3.50 stars LP

Comments:

Britten has titled his Six Metamorphoses After Ovid using names of the some of the legendary figures who appear in the great Roman poet's work. The movements are:

PAN who played upon the reed pipe which was Syrinx, his beloved.

PHAETON who rode upon the chariot of the sun for one day and was hurled into the river Padus by a thunderbolt.

NIOBE who, lamenting the death of her fourteen children, was turned into stone.

BACCHUS at whose feasts is heard the noise of gaggling women's tattling tongues and shouting out of boys.

NARCISSUS who fell in love with his own image and became a flower.

ARETHUSA who, flying from the love of Alpheus the river god, was turned into a fountain.

Hansjoerg Schellenberger - Oboe

1960 Sonata for 'Cello and Piano 4.00 stars CD
Britten - Cello Sonata Comments:
Alain Meunier - Violoncello
Christian Ivaldi
1961 War Requiem 4.00 stars LP
Benjamin Britten - War Requiem Comments:
On poems by Wilfred Owen

Galina Vishnevskaya - Soprano
Peter Pears - Tenor
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau - Baritone

London Symphony Orchestra cond. Benjamin Britten

1963 Cello Concerto 4.00 stars LP
Benjamin Britten - Cello Concerto Comments:
Mstislav Rostropovitch
English Chamber Orchestra cond. Benjamin Britten
1971 Suite for Cello No 3 Opus 87 4.0 stars CD
Comments:

Steven Isserlis - Cello

1975 String Quartet No 3 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Belcea Quartet
Compilation Britten conducts Britten 4.00 stars 7 CD
Benjamin Britten - Cello Concerto Comments:

CD 1

Piano Concerto, op. 13 (1938-1945)
Violin Concerto, op. 15 (1939-1958)

Sviatoslav Richter, piano
Mark Lubotsky, violin
English Chamber Orchestra - Benjamin Britten, conductor

CD 2

Cello Symphony, op. 68 (1963)
Sinfonia da Requiem, op. 20 (1940)
Cantata misericordium

Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
English Chamber Orchestra
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Peter Pears, tenor
John Shirley-Quirk baritone
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra - Benjamin Britten, conductor

CD 3

Prelude and Fugue for strings, op. 29 (1943)
Simple Symphony, op. 4 (1934)
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, op. 10 (1937)
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, op. 34 (1946)

English Chamber Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra - Benjamin Britten, conductor

CD 4

The Prince of the Pagodas, op. 57-Act 1 & Act 2, Scenes 1 & 2

CD 5

The Prince of the Pagodas-Act 3, Scenes 1 & 2 (1956)
Diversions for Piano (left hand) and orchestra, op. 21 1940-rev.1954)
Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, op. 22 (1940)

Peter Pears, tenor
Julius Katchen, piano
London Symphony Orchestra
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Benjamin Britten, conductor

CD 6

The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, op. 35 (1945)
Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, op. 74 (1965)
Winter Words, op. 52 (1953)
Tit for Tat (1968)

Peter Pears tenor
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau baritone
John Shirley-Quirk baritone
Benjamin Britten piano

CD 7

Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, op. 31 (1943)
Les Illuminations, op. 18 (1939)
Nocturne, op. 60 (1958)

Peter Pears, tenor
Barry Tuckwell, horn
London Symphony Orchestra
English Chamber Orchestra
Benjamin Britten, conductor