Biography of Benjamin Britten

Photo of Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten was a twentieth century composer of music and opera.

When and Where was he Born?

22nd November 1913, 21 Kirkley Cliff Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk, England.

Family Background:

Benjamin Britten was the fourth child and son of a dentist.


Britten studied the piano under Harold Samuel and composition under Frank Bridge. He received a scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he studied under John Ireland.

Timeline of Benjamin Britten:

1919: Britten begins composing in earnest.

1928: He studies composition with Frank Bridge before going to college.

1930: He goes up to the Royal College of Music but the authorities refuse him permission to go to Vienna to study with Alban Berg

1931: Britten wins the Farrar Prize for composition.

1933: He meets Arnold Schoenberg.

1934: Death of his father. Meets Peter Pears for the first time.

1935: Works with the General Post Office as a composer. Meets the poet W. H. Auden.

1936: Signs up with Boosey and Hawkes to publish his works. “Our Hunting Fathers” with text by W. H. Auden was performed at the Norwich Festival. Wrote music for “Night Mail” and “Coal Face” for the G.P.O film unit.

1937: Death of Britten’s mother. Major friendship with Peter Pears begins. Writes “Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge” for the Salzburg Festival.

1939: He visits the U.S.A. with Pears.

1940: First performance of “Sinfonia da Requiem” given by Sir John Barbirolli at Carnegie Hall, New York.

1941: He is awarded the Library of Congress Medal for services to Chamber Music.

1942: Britten returns to England to live at Snape in Suffolk. Exempted from Military service as a conscientious objector.

1945: The first performance at Saddler’s Wells, London of the opera “Peter Grimes”. (The original story of Peter Grimes appears in the 1812 book “The Borough” by George Crabbe).

1948: The first Aldeburgh Festival, created by Britten and the tenor Pears.

1952: He accompanied Peter Pears in a Schubert recital at the Salzburg Festival. He also conducted many works by Mozart, Bach, Elgar and Schumann.

1953: Britten is created a Companion of Honour.

1956: He hears Gamelan music and visits a Japanese Noh Play for the first time.

1957: He is elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and letters.

1960: Britten meets Shostakovich and Rostropovich.

1964: He is given the Aspen Award.

1965: He is appointed a member of the Order of Merit. Moves publishing house to Faber.

1967: Queen Elizabeth the Second opens the Maltings concert hall at Snape.

1969: The Maltings burns down.

1970: The Maltings re-opens.

1973: He has an operation on his heart valve.

1974: Britten wins the Ravel Prize.

1976: Britten is created a Life Peer. (The first musician to be so honoured).

When and Where did he Die?

4th December 1976, The Red House, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England of heart failure.

Age at Death:


Musical Works:

1932: “Sinfonietta”.
1933: “A Simple Symphony”.
1936: “Our Hunting Fathers”.
1937: “Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge”. “A Boy was Born”. “On this Island”.
1940: “Sinfonia da Requiem”. “Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo”. “Paul Bunyan”.
1941: “String Quartet No 1
1945: “Peter Grimes” (Opera).”Nine Holy Sonnets of John Donne”. “String Quartet No 2”.
1946: “The Rape of Lucretia” (Opera). “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”.
1947: “Albert Herring” (Opera).
1948: “The Beggars Opera”. “Spring Symphony”.
1949: “Let’s Make an Opera” (Work for Children).
1951: “€œBilly Budd”€ (Opera).
1953: “Gloriana”. (Opera).
1954: “The Turn of the Screw”. (Opera).
1956: “The Prince of the Pagodas”.
1960: €”Midsummer Night’s Dream”. (Opera).
1961: “War Requiem”.
1964: “Cello Symphony”. “Curlew River”.
1966: “The Burning Fiery Furnace”.
1968: “The Prodigal Son”.
1970: “Owen Wingrave” (Opera).
1973: “Death in Venice”. (Opera).
1976: “String Quartet No 3”.
1979: “The Prince of the Pagodas”.


Never married as gay.
(Note: homosexuality was illegal in Britain until 1967)

Site of Grave:

Annexe of Aldeburgh Churchyard in a grave lined with reeds from the marshes of Snape and placed there by Bob and Doris Ling.

Places of Interest:


Royal College of Music.


Snape Maltings.