Search Pytheas   use Pytheas SiteSearch   need help searching?  

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Benjamin Britten, composerWith the arrival of Benjamin Britten on the international music scene, many felt that English music gained its greatest genius since Purcell. A composer of wide-ranging talents, Britten found in the human voice an especial source of inspiration, an affinity that resulted in a remarkable body of work, ranging from operas like Peter Grimes and Death in Venice, to song cycles like the Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, to the massive choral work War Requiem. He also produced much music for orchestra and chamber ensembles, including symphonies, concerti, and chamber and solo works. He studied at the Royal College of Music, where he met the tenor Peter Pears, who would become his lifelong companion. His auspicious Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (1937), for string orchestra, won him international acclaim. In 1945 his opera Peter Grimes established him as a leading opera composer. In 1948 he cofounded the Aldeburgh Festival, which became one of the most important English music festivals and the centre of Britten's musical activities. His operas include The Rape of Lucretia (1946), The Turn of the Screw (1954), and Death in Venice (1973); they are admired for their skillful setting of English words and their orchestral interludes, as well as for their dramatic aptness and depth of psychological characterization. His large choral work War Requiem (1961) was greatly acclaimed. His best-known orchestral piece is The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1946). In 1976 he became the first British composer in history to be ennobled. Britten suffered a stroke during heart surgery in 1971, which resulted in something of a slowdown in his creative activities. Nonetheless, he continued to compose until his death in 1976, by which time he was recognized as one of the principal musical figures of the twentieth century.
-  Michael Rodman/allmusic &

COMPOSITIONS                                                            Britten  Links     ~ ~ ~     Works by Genre    ~ ~ ~    Britten on Britten
[under construction]
Plymouth Town, ballet (1930; fp. 2004)
Sinfonietta, op. 1, 1932                                                                                                                           
Phantasy, oboe quartet, op. 2, 1932
A Boy was Born for mixed chorus with organ ad lib, op. 3, 1933, revised 1955
Simple Symphony for strings, op. 4, 1934
Holiday Diary for piano, op. 5, 1934
Suite for violin and piano, op. 6, 1935
Friday Afternoons for children's voices and piano, op. 7, 1935
Our Hunting Fathers for soprano or tenor and orchestra (words W. H. Auden), op. 8, 1936
Soirées musicales for orchestra (after Gioacchino Rossini), op. 9, 1936
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge for string orchestra, op. 10, 1937
On this Island for soprano or tenor and piano (words W. H. Auden), op. 11, 1937
Mont Juic (after Catalan dances, with Lennox Berkeley), op. 12, 1937
Piano Concerto, op. 13, 1938, revised 1945
Ballad of Heroes for tenor or soprano, chorus and orchestra, op. 14, 1939
Violin Concerto, op. 15, 1939, revised 1958
Young Apollo for piano and strings, op. 16, 1939 (withdrawn)
Paul Bunyan, opera (libretto W. H. Auden), op. 17, 1941, revised 1976
Les Illuminations, for soprano or tenor and strings (words Arthur Rimbaud), op. 18, 1939
Canadian Carnival overture, op. 19, 1939
Sinfonia da Requiem, op. 20, 1940
Diversions for piano (left hand) and orchestra, op. 21, 1940, revised 1954
Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo for tenor and piano, op. 22, 1940
Introduction and Rondo alla burlesca for two pianos, op. 23, no. 1, 1940
Mazurka elegaica for two pianos, op. 23, no. 2,1941
Matinées musicales for orchestra (after Rossini), op. 24, 1941
String Quartet No. 1, op. 25, 1941
Scottish Ballad for two pianos and orchestra, op. 26, 1941
(An American Overture, op. 27, 1941 [first performance 1983])
Hymn to St. Cecilia for SSATB, op. 27, 1942
A Ceremony of Carols for trebles and harp, op. 28, 1942
Prelude and Fugue for 18 strings, op. 29, 1943
Rejoice in the Lamb for soloists, chorus and organ, op. 30, 1943
Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, song cycle, op. 31, 1943
Festival Te Deum for chorus and organ, op. 32, 1945
Peter Grimes, opera (libretto Montagu Slater after George Crabbe), op. 33, 1945
Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, op. 33a
Passacaglia from Peter Grimes, op. 33b
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell (The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra), op. 34, 1946
The Holy Sonnets of John Donne for soprano or tenor and piano, op. 35, 1945
String Quartet No. 2, op. 36, 1945
The Rape of Lucretia, opera (libretto Ronald Duncan after André Obey), op. 37, 1946 revised 1947
Occasional Overture, op. 38, 1946
Albert Herring, opera (libretto Eric Crozier after Guy de Maupassant), op. 39, 1947
My beloved is mine (Canticle I) for soprano or tenor and piano (words Francis Quarles), op. 40, 1947
A Charm of Lullabies for mezzo soprano and piano, op. 41, 1947
Saint Nicolas for soloists, chorus, strings, piano (4 hands), percussion and organ, op. 42, 1948
The Beggar's Opera after John Gay, op. 43, 1948
Spring Symphony for soloists, mixed choir, children's choir and orchestra, op. 44, 1949
The Little Sweep, opera (libretto Eric Crozier), op. 45, 1949
A Wedding anthem Amo Ergo Sum for soprano, tenor chorus and organ (words R. Duncan), op. 46, 1949
Five Flower Songs for SATB, op. 47, 1950
Lachrymae for viola and piano, op. 48, 1950
Lachrymae for viola and strings, op. 48a, 1976
Six Metamorphoses after Ovid for oboe, op. 49, 1951
Billy Budd, opera (libretto E. M. Forster and Eric Crozier after Melville), op. 50, 1951, revised 1960
Abraham and Isaac (Canticle II) for alto, tenor and piano (Chester miracle play), op. 51, 1952
Winter Words for soprano or tenor and piano (words Thomas Hardy), op. 52, 1953
Gloriana, opera (libretto William Plomer after Lytton Strachey), op. 53, 1953
Symphonic Suite "Gloriana" for tenor or oboe and orchestra, op. 53a, 1954
The Turn of the Screw, opera (libretto Myfanwy Piper after Henry James), op. 54, 1954
Still Falls the Rain (Canticle III) for tenor, horn and piano (words Edith Sitwell), op. 55, 1954
op. 56,
Hymn to St. Peter for treble, SATB and organ, op. 56a, 1955
Antiphon for SATB and organ, op. 56b, 1955
The Prince of the Pagodas, ballet, op. 57, 1956
Pas de six from The Prince of the Pagodasop, op. 57a
Songs from the Chinese for soprano or tenor and guitar, op. 58, 1957
Noye's Fludde, opera (Chester mystery play), op. 59, 1957
Nocturne for tenor, 7 obbligato instruments and string orchestra, song cycle, op. 60, 1958
Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente, op. 61, 1958
Cantata academica, op. 62, 1959
Missa brevis for boys' voices and organ, op. 63, 1959
A Midsummer Night's Dream, opera (libretto Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears after William Shakespeare), op. 64, 1960
Sonata for cello and piano, op. 65, 1961
War Requiem, op. 66, 1961
Psalm CL for children's chorus and instruments, op. 67, 1962
Cello Symphony, op. 68, 1963
Cantata misericordium, op. 69, 1963
Nocturnal after John Dowland for guitar, op. 70, 1963
Curlew River, church parable (libretto William Plomer after Noh), op. 71, 1964
Cello Suite No. 1, op. 72, 1964
Gemini Variations for flute, violin and piano four hands, op. 73, 1965
Songs and Proverbs of William Blake for baritone and piano, op. 74, 1965
Voices for Today for boys' voices, chorus and organ ad lib, op. 75, 1965
The Poet's Echo for soprano or tenor and piano (words Aleksandr Pushkin), op. 76, 1965
The Burning Fiery Furnace, church parable (libretto William Plomer after The Book of Daniel), op. 77, 1966
The Golden Vanity for boys' voices and piano (words Colin Graham), op. 78, 1966
The Building of the House for chorus or organ or brass and orchestra, op. 79, 1967
Cello Suite No. 2, op. 80, 1967
The Prodigal Son, church parable (libretto William Plomer), op. 81, 1968
Children's Crusade (words Bertold Brecht/Hans Keller), op. 82, 1968
Suite for harp, op. 83, 1969
Who are these Children? for tenor and piano (words William Soutar), op. 84, 1969
Owen Wingrave, opera (libretto Myfanwy Piper based on Henry James), op. 85, 1970
The Journey of the Magi (Canticle IV) for cntrtenor, tenor, baritone and pf (words T. S. Eliot), op. 86, 1971
Cello Suite No. 3, op. 87, 1972
Death in Venice, opera (libretto Myfanwy Piper based on Thomas Mann), op. 88, 1973
The Death of Narcissus (Canticle V) for tenor and harp (words T. S. Eliot), op. 89, 1974
A Suite on English Folk Tunes "A Time There Was" for chamber orchestra, op. 90, 1974
Sacred and Profane for five voices, op. 91, 1975
A Birthday Hansel for high voice and harp (words Robert Burns), op. 92, 1975
Phaedra, cantata (words Robert Lowell after Jean Racine), op. 93, 1975
String Quartet No. 3, op. 94, 1975
Welcome Ode for young people's voices and orchestra, op. 95, 1976

WORKS BY GENRE                                                            Britten  Links    ~ ~ ~    Britten on Britten     ~ top of page ~
[under construction]
Operas and Church Parables
Paul Bunyan, operetta (1941) [based on the American folktale]
Peter Grimes, opera (1945) [based on George Crabbe's The Borough]
The Rape of Lucretia, opera (1946) [after the play Le Viol de Lucrèce by André Obey]
Albert Herring, opera (1947) [after Guy de Maupassant's story Le Rosier de Mme. Husson]
Let's Make an Opera (The Little Sweep), an opera for children (1949)
Billy Budd, opera (1951) [after Herman Melville's novella]
Gloriana, opera (1953) [after Strachey's Elizabeth and Essex, written for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II]
The Turn of the Screw, opera (1954) [based on the novella by Henry James]
Noye's Fludde, opera for community performance (1958) [based on a mystery play]
A Midsummer Night's Dream, opera (1960) [after Shakespeare]
Curlew River, A Parable for Church Performance (1964) [based on a Japanese Noh play]
The Burning Fiery Furnace, A Parable for Church Performance (1966) [after the Book of Daniel, Chapter 3]
The Prodigal Son, A Parable for Church Performance (1968) [after the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15]
Owen Wingrave, an opera for television (1971) [after the short story by Henry James]
Death in Venice, opera (1973) [based on Thomas Mann's novella]
An unrealized Christmas opera, intended forces unknown (1976)

Plymouth Town, ballet (1930; fp. 2004)
The Prince of the Pagodas, ballet, op. 57 (1956)

Sinfonietta, for chamber orchestra (1932)
Simple Symphony, for string orchestra (1934)
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, for string orchestra (1937)
Sinfonia da Requiem (1940)
Prelude and Fugue for 18 Strings (1943)
Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes, for orchestra (1945)
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1946)
Symphonic Suite from Gloriana (1954)
Suite on English Folk Tunes, A Time There Was..., for chamber orchestra (1966/1974)


Soloist(s) w/Orchestra
Double Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra (1932, incpt, realised by Colin Matthews)
Piano Concerto (1938, rev. 1945)
Violin Concerto (1939, rev. 1958)
Young Apollo, for piano and string orchestra (1939)
Diversions for piano (left hand) and orchestra (1940 rev. 1954)
Clarinet Concerto (incomplete: 1st movement only, 1942/3, orch. by Colin Matthews)
Cello Symphony (1963)

Chorus w/Orchestra
Our Hunting Fathers, for soprano or tenor and orchestra (words W. H. Auden) (1936)
The Company of Heaven, for speakers, soloists, chorus and orchestra (1937, not performed again until 1989)
Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings (1943)
Saint Nicolas, for tenor soloist, children's chorus, chorus, and orchestra (1948)
Spring Symphony, for soprano, contralto, and tenor soloists, mixed chorus, boys' choir and orchestra (1949)
Nocturne, for tenor, 7 obbligato instruments & strings (1958)
War Requiem (1961) for soprano, tenor, baritone, chamber ensemble, boys' chorus, chorus, and orchestra
Cantata misericordium for tenor, baritone, small chorus, string quartet, string orch, piano, harp, timp (1963)
Phaedra for mezzo-soprano, cello, harpsichord, percussion, and string orchestra (1975)
Praise we great men, for soloists, chorus and orchestra (Edith Sitwell) (1976, completed by Matthews 1985)
Sea Symphony, for soloists, chorus and orchestra (unrealized, 1976)

A Boy Was Born for treble voices and choir (1933/55)
Friday Afternoons for children's voices and piano (1935)
A Ceremony of Carols for treble voices and harp (1942); an alternative arrangement for mixed voices and harp (or piano) is popular as well
Hymn to St. Cecilia for unaccompanied choir; poem by W. H. Auden (1942)
Rejoice in the Lamb for 4 soloists, choir, and organ; text by Christopher Smart (1943)
Missa Brevis for boys' voices and organ (1959)
Sacred and Profane (8 medieval lyrics) for SSATB (1974-5)

Fanfare for St Edmundsbury (1959) short antiphonal and polytonal piece for three trumpets

Solo Instrument
Cello Sonata in C Major (1960)
Nocturnal after John Dowland for guitar (1963)
Cello Suite No. 1 (1964)
Cello Suite No. 2 (1967)
Cello Suite No. 3 (1971)
Six Metamorphoses after Ovid for solo Oboe, with quotations from Ovid's Metamorphoses poem (1951)
    - see YouTube for performances of nos.    1    2    3    4    6

2 Lullabies, 2 pianos (1936)
Introduction and Rondo alla burlesca, 2 pianos, op. 23, no. 1 (1940)
Mazurka elegiaca, 2 pianos, op. 23, no. 2 (1941)

The Clerk, [voice and piano] (????)
Epitaph, [voice and piano] (????)
What's on your mind?, tenor and piano (????)
Beware! (3 songs), voice and piano (1922-26)
    - O that I ne'er been married [text: Burns]
    - Beware [text: Longfellow]
    - The Clerk [text: Asquith]
The Birds, mezzo-soprano/baritone and piano (1929; rev. 1934)
Tit for Tat (5 songs), voice and piano (1931/1968] [trxt:Walter de la Mare]
    - A song of enchantment
    - Autumn
    - Silver
    - Vigil
    - Tit for tat
Ship of Rio, voice and piano (1932/1963)
A Poison Tree, baritone and piano (1935) [text: William Blake]
When you're feeling like expressing your affection, soprano/tenor and piano (1935-36) [text: W. H. Auden?]
Cabaret Songs (4 songs), high voice and piano (1937) [text: W. H. Auden]
    - O tell me the truth about love
    - Funeral Blues
     - Johnny
    - Calypso
Night covers up the rigid land, soprano/tenor and piano (1937) [text: W. H. Auden]
Not even summer yet, soprano/tenor and piano (1937) [text: Peter Burra]
On this Island (5 songs), soprano/tenor and piano, op. 11 (1937) [text: W. H. Auden]
    - Let the florid music praise
    - Now the leaves are falling fast
    - Seascape: Look, stranger
     - Nocturne: Now through night's caressing grip
    - As it is plenty
The Sun Shines Down, tenor and piano (1937)
To lie flat on the back with the knees flexed, soprano/tenor and piano (1937) [text: W. H. Auden]
Fish in the Unruffled Lakes, soprano/tenor and piano (1938) [text: W. H. Auden]
The Red Cockatoo, soprano/tenor and piano (1938) [Arthur Waley, after the Chinese of Po Chü-i]
Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo (7 songs), tenor and piano, op. 22 (1940)
    - Si come nella penna (XVI)
    - A che più debb'io mai l'intensa voglia (XXXI)
    - Veggio co' bei vostri occhi (XXX)
     - Tu sa' ch'io so, signior mie (LV)
    - Rendete agli occhi miei (XXXVIII)
    - S'un casto amor (XXXII)
    - Spirto ben nato (XXIV)
Underneath the Abject Willow, tenor and piano (1941) [text: W. H. Auden]
Cradle Song for Eleanor, soprano/tenor and piano (1942) [text: Louis MacNeice]
Dirge for Wolfram ("If thou wilt ease thy heart"), soprano/tenor and piano (1942) [text: Thomas Lovell Beddoes]
Song, on the Water ("Wild with passion"), soprano/tenor and piano (1942) [text: Thomas Lovell Beddoes]
The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Bernard, male voices and piano (1943)
Birthday Song for Erwin, soprano/tenor and piano (1945) [text: Ronald Duncan]
The Holy Sonnets of John Donne (9 songs), soprano/tenor and piano, op. 35 (1945)
    - Oh my blacke Soule
    - Batter my heart
     - O might those sighes and teares
    - Oh, to vex me
    - What if this present
    - Since she whom I loved
     - At the round earth's imagined corneres
    - Thou hast made me
    - Death, be not proud
Canticle I: My beloved is mine, tenor and piano (1947)
A Charm of Lullabies, mezzo-soprano and piano, op. 41 (1947)
Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac, alto (or countertenor), tenor and piano (1952)
The Children and Sir Nameless, soprano/tenor and piano (1953)
If it's ever spring again, soprano/tenor and piano (1953)
Winter Words (8 songs), soprano/tenor and piano, op. 52 (1953) [text: Thomas Hardy]
    - At day-close in November
    - Midnight on the Great Western
    - Wagtail and baby
    - The little old table
    - The choirmaster's burial
    - Proud songsters
    - At the railway station, Upway
    - Before life and after
Canticle III: Still falls the rain, tenor, horn and piano (1954) [text: Edith Sitwell]
The Heart of the Matter, narrator, tenor, horn and piano (1956)
Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente (6 songs), tenor and piano, op. 61 (1958)
Um Mitternacht, soprano/tenor and piano (1959/60) [text: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe]
Poet's Echo, soprano/tenor and piano, op. 76 (1965) [text: Pushkin]
Songs and Proverbs of William Blake (7 songs), baritone and piano, op. 74 (1965)
    - London
    - The Chimney-sweeper
    - A Poison Tree
    - The Tyger
    - The Fly
    - Ah, Sun-flower! Weary of time
    - Every night and every morn
Who Are These Children?, tenor and piano, op. 84 (1969) [text: William Soutar]
Canticle IV: Journey of the Magi, countertenor, tenor, baritone and piano (1971)
Canticle V: The Death of Saint Narcissus, tenor and harp (1974)
A Birthday Hansel, high voice and harp (1975)
Eight books of Folksong Arrangements from the British Isles and France for voice and pf, guitar and harp

Night Mail (1936), with words by W. H. Auden

BRITTEN  LINKS                                                            Works by Genre    ~ ~ ~    Britten on Britten      ~ top of page ~
[under construction]
Benjamin Britten -- Variations on a Theme of Innocence Lost (David Vernier, ClassicsToday)
Benjamin Britten: A Midsummer Night's Dream; Peter Grimes; Billy Budd (James Wierzbicki)
Benjamin Britten: Music and Poetry, Attendant Muses at the Grinding Gears (Peter Nicholson, 3quarksdaily)
Benjamin Britten, Performer (James C.S. Liu)
"Genius" Composer Benjamin Britten Dies (BBC/On This Day)
Huge Chords Have Wrought Me Mighty: Britten, Owen and the War Requiem (Haverford College)
An Interview with Benjamin Britten (Ruby Mercer, Free Online Library)
A Little Piece of Benjamin Britten's Life Conserved for Future Generations (Victoria Nicholls, EDP24)
"Love's a Little Boy" - Benjamin Britten and WH Auden (Philip Hensher, The Guardian)
Music and the Psychology of Pacifism: Benjamin Britten's War Requiem (Arthur D. Colman)

Benjamin Britten: A Bio-Bibliography (Stewart R. Craggs, Greenwood Pub Group,
Benjamin Britten: A Guide to Research (Peter John Hodgson, Routledge,
Benjamin Britten: His Life and Operas (Eric Walter White, Univ Cal Pr,
Benjamin Britten: The Spiritual Dimension (Graham Elliott, Oxford Univ Pr,
The Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Britten (Mervyn Cooke, Cambridge Univ Pr,
Letters From a Life: The Selected Letters and Diaries ... (Benjamin Britten, et al., Univ of Cal Pf,

Composer website (@ Britten-Pears Foundation)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) - A Len Mullenger Commission (MusicWeb International)
Composer website (by Scott Eric Smith)
Colorado Britten Society

Britten @ Wikipedia
Britten @
Britten @
Britten @ Bach Cantatas
Britten @
Britten @ BBC Four/Interviews
Britten @ Boosey & Hawkes
Britten @ Brain-Juice
Britten @ Britain Unlimited
Britten @ Caltech (created by Cyrus Behroozi and Thomas Niday)
Britten @ Chester Novello
Britten @ Classic Cat
Britten @ Classical Archives
Britten @ Classical Composers Database
Britten @ Classical Music Pages
Britten @ Classical Musical Midi Page
Britten @ Classical Net
Britten @ Classics for Kids
Britten @ ClassicsToday
Britten @ composition:today
Britten @ Dilettante Music
Britten @ Dr. Estrella's Incredibly Abridged Dictionary of Composers
Britten @ DSO Kids (Dallas Symphony Orchestra)
Britten @
Britten @
Britten @ Faber Music    also    here
Britten @ Facebook (1)
Britten @ Facebook (2)
Britten @ Facebook/The Benjamin Britten Appreciation Society
Britten @ Facebook/The Benjamin Britten Society
Britten @
Britten @ Find a Grave
Britten @
Britten @ The Guardian
Britten @ Humanities Web
Britten @ IMDb (Internet Movie Database)
Britten @ Karadar Classical Music
Britten @ MSN Music
Britten @ Music Academy Online
Britten @ MusicBrainz
Britten @ The Music Chamber
Britten @ MusicWeb International
Britten @
Britten @ Naxos
Britten @ The New York Times
Britten @ NPRmusic
Britten @ OperaGlass
Britten @ PBS/Great Performances
Britten @
Britten @ REC Music Foundation /The Lied and Art Song Texts Page
Britten @ Chuck Rothman
Britten @
Britten @ United States Marine Band
Britten @ Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary

Streaming Audio
Britten @ The Classical MIDI Connection
Britten @ Classical Masterpieces
Britten @ Classical Archives
Britten @ Classical Musical Midi Page
Britten @ - On Composing
Britten @
Britten @ MidiWorld
Britten @ MySpaceMusic/noyesfludde
Britten @ NPRmusic
Britten @ PRX (Public Radio Exchange)
Britten @ Rhapsody
Britten @ YouTube/Benjamin Britten Speaking on Composing

Britten @ ArkivMusic
Britten @ ClassicsOnline
Britten @ Discogs

Britten @ YouTube

                                                                                                                                                                                           ~ top of page ~
Britten on Britten: Speaking on Composing (streaming audio via Google)

 Britten on Britten: On Composing (streaming audio)
Benjamin Britten, composerComposers Speak on the Web at Pytheas
                             ~ click on composer picture to listen ~

. . . and check out more    Composers Speak on the Web    at Pytheas

HOME           ABOUT           RESOURCES           COMPOSERS           PERFORMANCES           20/21 ENSEMBLE           CONTACT US