Benjamin Britten 1913 - 1976
Composer, conductor and pianist
(Edward) Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten OM CH (22 November 1913 – 4 December 1976)
Britten was a composer, conductor and pianist, and one of the central figures of twentieth century British classical music. He showed his talent from an early age, composing prolifically as a child. He collaborated with the poet W.H. Auden on several compositions, including Hymn to St Cecilia, and Britten and his partner Peter Pears, the tenor,(1910 – 1981) followed Auden to America, spending the early years of the war there. While in America, Britten wrote his first music drama. Paul Bunyan, an operetta to a libretto by Auden, and the American period was also remarkable for a number of orchestral works, including the Violin Concerto Op. 15 and Sinfonia da Requiem Op. 20 for full orchestra.
In 1940 he composed Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo Op 22 which was premiered at the Wigmore Hall in September 1942. Britten and Pears had returned to England in spring 1942, Britten completing Hymn to St Cecilia and a Ceremony of Carols Op 28 while crossing the Atlantic on board MS Axel Johnson. On arriving in England Britten and Pears both applied for recognition as conscientious objectors. This was granted on condition they gave recitals under the auspices of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts.
In 1943 they lived at 45A St John’s Wood High Street, where a there is a green City of Westminster plaque to mark their home. Visitors to the flat included Erwin Stein and his daughter Marion, (later the Countess of Harewood and Mrs Jeremy Thorpe) who took refuge there after their flat was ruined by a fire. Britten began work on his great opera Peter Grimes, which was premiered at Sadlers Wells in 1945. In 1947 Britten and Pears moved to Crag House, 4 Crabbe Street, Aldeburgh in Suffolk. During the 1950s they stayed in London at Pears’ flat at 5 Chester Gate, and later at 59c Marlborough Place, the home of Anne Wood and Joanna Peters, members of the English Opera Group.