Benjamin Britten

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Britten, Benjamin


Born Nov. 22, 1913, in Lowestoft, England. English composer, pianist, conductor, and prominent musical and public figure.

Britten is the most outstanding representative of contemporary English music. In 1925 he began studying composition with F. Bridge and from 1929 to 1933 attended the Royal College of Music in London, studying composition with J. Ireland and piano with A. Benjamin. He made his debut as a composer at the Festival of Contemporary Music in Florence in 1934. He was one of the founders and the manager of the English Opera Group, a small operatic group of the London Covent Garden Theater (from 1947) with whom he performed in the USSR in 1964. He was also manager of the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. His work brought about the revival of the British musical theater. He has written 11 operas, including Peter Grimes (1945), Albert Herring (1947), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960); a new version of the comic Beggar’s Opera by John Gay and Pepusch (1948); the children’s opera Let’s Make an Opera! (1949); and the ballet The Prince of the Pagodas (produced in 1957). His greatest achievements have been in chamber opera—for example, The Turn of the Screw (1954).

Britten’s stage music is characterized by its striking national characteristics, sharp dramatic clashes, the depth of psychological aspects, and the variety of musical means of expression; the vocal parts have both melodic and harsh, raw effects. Britten’s musical style characteristically combines the tradition of the 17th and 18th centuries. (H. Purcell, J. S. Bach, and others) with supermodern musical effects (War Requiem for solo voices, mixed choir, boys’ choir, symphony orchestra, and organ; 1961). Among his other vocal-symphonic works are Ballad About Heroes (1939), dedicated to those who fought in the International Brigade in Spain, and the Cantata Misericordium. His orchestral works include Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge; Sinfonia da Requiem (1940); Sinfonietta for Chamber Orchestra (1932); concerti (two for piano and one for violin with orchestra); and a symphony for cello with orchestra, dedicated to M. Rostropovich (1963).

Britten composed chamber instrumental pieces and many vocal compositions—the song cycles The Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo (1940) and songs composed on Pushkin’s words, dedicated to G. Vishnevskaia (1965), for example. He has accompanied the singer P. Pears (also in the USSR). Britten has composed arrangements of works by Purcell and of English, Scottish, and French folk songs. He also composes for the theater, motion pictures, and radio. Britten has conducted in the USSR on many occasions (first visit, 1963).


The Story of Music. London, 1958. (With I. Hoist.)


Tauragis, A. B. Britten. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965.
Holst, I. Bendzhamin Britten. Moscow, 1968. (With bibliography; translated from English.)
White, E. W. B. Britten. London, 1954.
B. Britten: A Complete Catalogue of His Works. London, 1963.
Young, P. B. Britten. London, 1966.