Saturday, December 04, 2010

A Requiem for Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten's particular contribution to the arts is the English-language opera; his weren't the first nor were they the last, but their appearance at the middle of the 20th Century helped to revitalize classical music in the UK nonetheless.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketMost of Britten's works were written to suit the voice of his lover, Peter Pears, whom he'd met in 1936 and with whom Britten lived and worked for the last 40 years of his life. Their collaboration is considered unique in the history of music, both for its singer/composer dynamic as well as its all-male ramifications.

Paul Bunyan, an operetta with libretto by W. H. Auden*, appeared in 1941 during their wartime exile in America; Peter Grimes followed in June 1945. In 1948 Britten (along with Pears, and librettist Eric Crozier) founded the Aldeburgh Festival, due in part to the frosty reception his work received in London, but also to give the English Opera Group, which he also founded, a home.

Britten's most famous work, Billy Budd, premiered in 1951, followed by the coronation-inspired Gloriana in 1953, and the well-received The Turn of the Screw in 1954. Throughout this time he continued to compose popular works other than operas, including piano pieces for chamber orchestra and his famous War Requiem among many others.

Britten's last two works were Owen Wingrave in 1971, and Death in Venice in 1973. Suffering from ill-health for most of the past decade, Britten died on this day in 1976, and as befitting Lord Britten of Aldeburgh (as he'd become just months before his death) he is buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul's Church in Aldeburgh, where in April 1986 he was joined by his life's companion.

*Who was something of a notable whoopsie himself...
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1 comment:

Javier said...

During my previous delirium with the minimalists (Philip Glass hangover still hurts), I came across Arvo Part. He composed "Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten":

A most sad, nostalgic and evocative theme.