Great Britten; This Year Marks the Centenary of the Birth of Acclaimed Composer and Pianist Benjamin Britten. Karen Price Takes a Look at Some of the Events Being Organised to Celebrate His Work

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), January 18, 2013 | Go to article overview

Great Britten; This Year Marks the Centenary of the Birth of Acclaimed Composer and Pianist Benjamin Britten. Karen Price Takes a Look at Some of the Events Being Organised to Celebrate His Work


A life in music Edward Benjamin Britten was born on November 22, 1913 in Suffolk.

He was one of the central figures of 20th century British classical music, and wrote music in several classical genres and styles, from film scores to opera.

His best known works include Peter Grimes and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

The son of a dentist, Britten first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934.

With the premiere of Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to international fame. Over the next nine years, he wrote six more operas.

Britten's interests as a composer were wide-ranging; he produced important music in such varied genres as orchestral, choral, solo vocal (much of it written for his life partner, tenor Sir Peter Pears), chamber and instrumental, as well as film music.

He also took a great interest in writing music for children and amateur performers, and was an outstanding pianist and conductor.

Together with Pears and the librettist/producer Eric Crozier, Britten founded the annual Aldeburgh Festival, and was responsible for the creation of Snape Maltings Concert Hall.

During his final years, Britten was the first composer to be given a life peerage.

He died on December 4, 1976.

WHILE studying at the Royal Academy of Music, Andrew Matthews-Owen became a fan of Benjamin Britten's work.

Now he's curating a programme of events at London's newest arts venue to mark the centenary of the British composer's birth.

The concerts are among a number of celebrations taking place across the country this year to mark the milestone anniversary.

Other highlights include a series of performances by BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Welsh National Youth Opera's premiere of Britten's Paul Bunyan, featuring members of Only Boys Aloud. More on which later.

There will also be a commemorative 50p coin from the Royal Mint - the first honouring a British composer - and a nationwide project which will culminate with 75,000 schoolchildren simultaneously singing Friday Afternoons. Written by Britten in 1935 for schoolchildren in Prestatyn, where his brother was headmaster, it will be performed on November 22, 2013 - Britten's 100th birthday.

Matthews-Owen, who is originally from Neath, approached Kings Place - a hub for music and art in the Kings Cross area of London - with his ideas for commemorating Britten.

"I got into his music while I was studying and used to play his song cycles," says the 34-year-old.

"I went to the venue with my ideas to curate a series of concerts to celebrate not just Britten but also the people who influenced him and his contemporaries as well as some of the composers who are now carrying on his song-writing traditions."

The season - Britten At 100 - starts on February 7 with the performance Songs With And Without Words.

As well as Britten's Tema Sacher for solo cello and Ciaccona from Cello Suite No 2 - to be performed by Oliver Coates - there will be music by Faure and Schubert.

"Britten adored Faure but very few pianists perform his work," Matthews-Owen says of the 19th century French composer. "But Britten would play it for his own pleasure."

Faure's Nocturnes and Barcarolles will be played during the concert by Christine Croshaw.

Meanwhile, the work of Schubert regularly featured among the repertoire of Britten and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears. In this performance, Schubert's songs will be sung by British lyric tenor, Nicholas Mulroy. …

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