Article

Benjamin Britten

Heather Wiebe

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0005
Benjamin Britten

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Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) was a British composer, performer, and conductor. To some extent, he resisted the avant-garde musical trends of his time in favor of a more accessible language and a goal of musical communication. His commitment to opera reveals an aesthetic stance slightly askew from the modernist establishment, but his operas, particularly Peter Grimes (1945), Billy Budd (1951), and The Turn of the Screw (1954) are some of the rare postwar works to find a secure place in the international repertory. He is also well known for his song cycles, including Serenade (1943) and Nocturne (1958), which count among the many works he wrote for Peter Pears; and for his choral music, particularly the War Requiem (1961). In addition, he produced film and incidental music, music for children, and instrumental music (including cello suites, string quartets, and orchestral music). He was also active as a music administrator, co-founding the Aldeburgh Festival. Britten’s life and career seem governed by a set of central tensions. One is between his commitment to communication and his attraction to some experimental elements (for instance in Curlew River). Although Britten was firmly ensconced in Aldeburgh and was drawn to ideas of local community, his life is marked by incessant tours and performances abroad (as far as Japan and India), an aborted emigration to the United States, and significant friendships with musical figures from around the world. His leftist commitments and his musical populism are complicated by a certain social and cultural elitism. Finally, although Britten successfully inserted himself into the centers of British cultural power, he, in many ways, occupied positions at the margins: as a gay man, as a professional musician, and as a pacifist.

Article.  8200 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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