Britten, Benjamin, Baron Britten of Aldeburgh

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Britten, Benjamin, Baron Britten of Aldeburgh

Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten of Aldeburgh, 1913–76, English composer. Britten's most characteristic expression is found in his vocal music, much of which was written for his partner, the tenor Sir Peter Pears. His many song cycles and choral works include A Boy Was Born (1933) and A Ceremony of Carols (1942). Britten's great War Requiem (1962), based on the bitter war poems of Wilfred Owen, was sung at the dedication in England of the reconstructed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed during World War II. In his operas, which include Paul Bunyan (1941), Peter Grimes (1945), The Rape of Lucretia (1946), The Beggar's Opera (1948), The Turn of the Screw (1954), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1960), and Death in Venice (1973), he displayed a sensitivity to text and a fondness for variation techniques, dynamic dissonance, and the use of ground basses. Britten's instrumental works, some composed when he was a youth, display considerable technical brilliance and colorful orchestration. A notable and popular example, The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1946), written for a film, is based on a theme by Purcell. He was created a life peer in 1976.

See selected letters ed. by P. Reed and M. Cooke (6 vol., 1991–2012); biographies by I. Holst (2d ed. 1970), E. W. White (new ed. 1970), H. Carpenter (1992), P. Kildea (2013), and N. Powell (2013); studies by P. Evans (1979), L. Walker (2009), H. Wiebe (2012), and M. Bostridge, ed. (2013).

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