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Lowestoft (Suffolk, Grande-Bretagne) November 22, 1913 - Aldeburgh (Grande-Bretagne) December 4, 1976
Benjamin Britten came from a traditional English middle-class background. His mother, who was the town choir's secretary, introduced him to music at a very young age. He studied composition with Frank Bridge, then entered the Royal College of Music of London, where he followed J.Ireland's lessons and learnt to play the piano with A. Benjamin.
His Sinfonietta was published while he was still a student. Then he composed for the radio or the film industry (usually in collaboration with poet W.H. Auden). In the 1937 edition of the Salzburg Festival, his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge for string orchestra brought him his first international success. As a pacifist, Britten left in 1939 for the USA, where he composed many works such as The Illuminations, Violin Concerto... In 1942 he decided to return to Britain. In 1945, his first opera, Peter Grimes, was a big success and brought him fame.
However, he tooked a turn toward the composition of chamber operas, and in 1946 he founded the English Opera Group, which allowed him to perform that specific operatic genre. He will be the Group's artistic director, as well as one of its conductors and composers.
Several of his works were created with that ensemble, such as The Rape Of Lucretia in 1946 (with Kathleen Ferrier), at the height of Britten's creativity, Albert Herring, in 1947, a comedy based on a Maupassant tale, or The Turn of the Screw in 1954, which was inspired by a fantasy short-story by Henry James.
At the same time as working as a composer, Britten gave many concerts around the world as a conductor but also as an accompanist, notably with his life partner tenor Peter Pears, for whom he composed a lot.
In 1948, he launched the Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk, where he settled the year before and which allowed him to work in an environment close to nature. In 1951, Britten revived his ties with the grand opera genre, he writes Billy Budd, followed by A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1960, which displayed a perfect use of the children's voices.
His War Requiem, which was presented in 1962 for the consecration of the reconstructed Coventry Cathedral, conveyed Britten's feelings towards the horrors of war. The text was inspired by the poems of the sensitive Wilfried Owen and will be sung, symbolically, by Russia's Galina Vishnevskaya, Germany's Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and England's Peter Pears.
From 1964 to 1968, he composed the 'Three Church Parables' : Curlew River, The Fiery Furnace and The Prodigal Son. In 1971 he wrote Owen Wingraw, a radio opera for the BBC. In 1974 he wrote his last work : Death In Venice, based on Thomas Mann's novel.
Britten was a voice-lover, therefore a great composer of vocal music. The defense of mankind against injustice was a recurring topic in his work. He was, along with Purcell, one of English classical music's most symbolic figures.