Benjamin Britten is the most widely performed British composer of the 20th century. He established a new English-language operatic tradition after the Second World War with stage works such as [Peter Grimes], [Billy Budd] and [The Turn of the Screw], and composed – often for leading soloists of his time – large-scale orchestral scores, songs and choral music that are now firmly established in the international repertoire.
Benjamin Britten was born in the East English coastal town of Lowestoft on 22 November 1913. After early piano and viola lessons, he began composing when still a child. At the age of 14, he became a pupil of Frank Bridge, who championed composers who were little known in Britain at the time, such as Alexander Scriabin, Béla Bartók and Alban Berg. From 1930, Britten then continued his studies under Arthur Benjamin and John Ireland at the Royal College of Music, where he won the Ernest Farrar Prize for Composition after only one year. Despite this, Bridge remained his most important mentor, which is why he created a musical memorial to him in 1937 with his [Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge], which premiered at the Salzburg Festival. In view of the political developments in Europe, Britten, who was a committed pacifist, went to the USA, where he composed the [Sinfonia da Requiem], the song cycle [Les Illuminations] and his Violin Concerto, among other works. Returning to Great Britain, he was exempted from military service as a conscientious objector. Britten composed the opera [Peter Grimes], which was premiered to great acclaim on 7 June 1945. This was followed by major works such as [The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra], the [War Requiem] and the Cello Symphony for Mstislav Rostropovich, as well as several operas. Britten, who founded the English Opera Group in 1946 and the Aldeburgh Festival two years later, and was also extremely successful as a concert pianist and conductor, was knighted and became the first composer to be made a Lord. He died following a serious illness on 4 December 1976 at the age of 63.