Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)

How to say the name:

The name ‘Benjamin Britten’ is easy to say because he was English!

Memorial to Britten at Aldeburgh


22nd November 1913 in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England.


4th December 1976 in Aldeburgh, Suffolk.


The churchyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Aldeburgh.

Type of Music:

Modern classical music.

Some famous pieces:
  • Music to go with a short film called ‘Night Mail’ (this film includes a poem by W.H. Auden of the same name).
  • The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. (See below for a video.)
Some great pieces:
  • The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.
  • Simple Symphony.
  • Peter Grimes (an opera). (See below for a video example.)
  • The Rape of Lucretia (an opera).
  • Albert Herring (an opera).
  • Billy Budd (an opera).
  • The Turn of the Screw (an opera).
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (an opera).
  • War Requiem.
  • Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings (a group of songs).
Some interesting facts:
  • He was one of the greatest opera composers of the last century.
  • Before Britten there had no good operas written in Great Britain for about 250 years! Britten brought British opera back to life.
  • He went to America at the beginning of World War Two. When he returned to England in 1942, he became a ‘conscientious objector’ (someone who refused to fight because he believed fighting was very wrong).
  • He wrote many songs and parts in opera for his life-long partner, Peter Pears.
  • He was made Baron Britten in 1976.
  • The ‘War Requiem’ was written for the new Coventry Cathedral. This new cathedral was built to replace the one that was destroyed in World War Two.
  • He started the annual Aldeburgh Festival (with Peter Pears). This festival is now famous all over the world. The main events of the festival take place in an old malthouse (a building used to turn barley into malt).

Here is a video of part of Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. This piece was written to introduce kids to the different parts of the orchestra. Notice how different groups of intruments play on their own.

Part of Britten’s ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’

And here is a video of the Storm interlude from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. It’s certainly stormy music isn’t it? (Don’t be fooled by the peaceful bit in the middle. This part describes a desperate search for peace in the middle of a storm. But the search doesn’t succeed. The storm just comes back again.)

‘Storm’ from Britten’s opera ‘Peter Grimes’

Finally, here is Britten himself with Peter Pears performing ‘O Waly, Waly’! This is a folk song arranged by Britten.

Britten and Peter Pears performing Britten’s arrangement of the folk song ‘O Waly, Waly’

There is another video of music by Britten on the following page:

Picture credits:
  1. Benjamin Britten. The copyright to this image is probably held by the photographer who took it, but this person is unknown. In any case this image is here for the purposes of education only. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
  2. Memorial to Britten at Aldeburgh. The sculpture is called ‘The Scallop’ and is by Maggi Hambling. It has the words, “I hear those voices that will not be drowned” from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes cut into it. This photograph was taken on 1st November 2005 by Andre Dunn and is free to use, providing one credits the photographer. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
Video credits:
  1. Britten: The young persons guide to the orchestra op.34. Orkiestra Filharmonii Podlaskiej Bialystok, Dirigent: Reinhard Seehafer; June 2009.
  2. Brett Mitchell: Britten’s “Storm”. “Storm” from Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes”, performed by Brett Mitchell and The University of Texas Symphony Orchestra on 28 March 2005.
  3. B.Britten & P.Pears – O Waly, Waly. Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) – O Waly, Waly (folksong arrangement) Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano).