Benjamin Britten was the most prolific and most famous English
composer of the mid-twentieth century. He was known specifically
for his operas and choral works. His operas often called for
smaller chamber ensembles instead of the full orchestra. In spite
of this, he used imaginative orchestral colors. Britten's harmonies
and techniques explore the range of many twentieth-century sounds
and devices, but his style was rather peculiar and
Britten was born on November 22nd, 1913 in Lowestoft which was then a part of Suffolk. He began composing pieces at the age of five, and finished his first String Quartet at the age of nine. He was mentored under Frank Bridge, and they both hated the typical pastoral style of England's current composers, and both were interested in exploring Bartók and Schoenberg's innovative styles. Britten was set to study with Alban Berg in 1934, but that never occurred. Later however, with his piece, Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, he won the Salzburg Festival and became internationally renown.
He was composing a piece for a film , and this took him to America with his lifetime lover Peter Pears. After returning to England in 1942, they began touring, for Pears was a highly regarded singer. Britten would accompany him on the piano as they traveled about Europe.
During World War II, Britten began his work on his first major opera, Peter Grimes. His unusual ability to pick perfect scenes was uncanny. Here his genius really showed through. The work began a international success on its first debut. This gave him confidence, and the rest of his chamber operas were also to be equally successful. These include The Turn of the Screw and The Rape of Lucretia.
Pears and Britten finally settled in Suffolk, though they still
continued to travel often. In 1962 he wrote the War Requiem,
another magnificent piece. It was considered most likely his
greatest work for the concert hall. The two also visited
Rostropovich and Shostakovich
during their final years. Britten's final opera would be Death in
Venice, which was influenced by his travels to the Far East. Upon
completion of this, Britten's health was receding. His final work
was his Third String Quartet, which was quite upbeat considering
his shallow health. He died in 1976, having received a peerage in
recognition of his astounding achievements.
His Famous Compositions
His notable pieces include any of his multiple string quartets. His Third
String Quartet, in particular, is very tasteful. His other music
included the War Requiem, Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, and a ballet,
The Prince of Pagodas. He was a child prodigy and his music clearly
shows the development that he went through in his career.
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