Britten In The Big Picture

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Religion, sexual preferences, and different opinions and perspectives should not alienate people, but rather unite them. Differences make us human. Benjamin Britten -who was the subject of many comments after his death- was never prevented from his success in his music despite the “non-musical” information about him, was also a unique musician. In my opinion, the success of his music was because he was himself. His character was shaped according to his thoughts, and this situation was transferred into his music without passing from a filter. Many other parameters such as where he lives, his culture, family relationships, his contemporaries made Britten as Britten. But this did not mean that Britten would always follow their path and reflect those around them as they were. Those who came out of his mind and heart reached ours with magnificent beauty: with his music. 

Benjamin Britten has managed to become one of the prominent figures of the modern era quite well. He was born in England towards the end of the autumn of 1913, and by the end of 1976 he would be able to prove to us the importance of his birthday. The viola, which he learned in addition to the piano training he received from his young age, provided Britten with a tremendous musical background. He started composing of those times and never stopped doing afterwards. When he was a middle school student, he had the opportunity to meet Frank Bridge, who would open new doors for him. Bridge, an inspiring composer especially in chamber music, had a romantic style at first, but later turned towards atonality. This situation undoubtedly reflected on the education he gave to Britten, and consequently to Britten’s music too.

Benjamin Britten

In addition to his classical education at the conservatory, Britten also paid attention to studying more on contemporary works and composers of the period with the special training he received from Bridge and other teachers. This was a very critical point. Bridge in particular was an important name in Britten’s life. Under his leadership, we can say that Britten’smusic was literally a “bridge” between the British traditional music and the developments of the 20th century. 

Being a composer who attaches great importance to details in music, as in other areas of life, has been one of the factors that made his music make a difference. Did he also think that Britten’s music, which he composed when he was a young man of nineteen, would reach this international level? “Phantasy for Oboe and String Trio Op.2” was the first real proof of Britten’s presence in professional life. This piece was basically a 13-minute fantasy consisting of four holistic pieces.

Britten, whose name has now reached the masses, has created works in many formats. He wrote works for chamber music, piano, orchestra, choir, opera and ballet. However, there was a work in which Britten’s name was usually known by that: Peter Grimes. The British poet, born in 1754, George Crabbe‘s poem “The Borough” apparently influenced Britten. The poem was about Suffolk, the earldom in which both Crabbe and Britten were born. After the inspiration of this poem, by the effect of longing for his own hometown, the opera named “Peter Grimes” was born. This opera was about the struggle of the individual against the communities. Peter Grimes both bore the traces of Crabbe and presented Britten’s current ideas. This so called “collaboration” work of two distinguished artists of England has gained a very important place on behalf of British music.

Benjamin Britten was continuing to produce numerous operas and other works after the resounding of Peter Grimes, which corresponded to the time of the Second World War. 15 years later, this time, the romantic-comedy novel “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” of William Shakespeare -whose works that are indicative of his genius oppose time- is adapted into the opera by Britten. One of the challenges of A Midsummer Night’s Dream Op.64, according to Britten, was to faithfully reflect Shakespeare’s work. Another point was that the traditional opera also became the subject of opera at the same time.

Thanks to the importance he gives to these details, Britten’s credibility in his musical and dramatic structure has brought him success. Like in Phantasy for Oboe and String Trio Op.2 and Peter Grimes, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Op.64 it was Britten and his music, who beautified each small piece separately and did an integrated work in the big picture.


Albright, D., 2012. Berlioz, Verdi, Wagner, Britten: Great Shakespeareans: Volume XI.

Brett, P., Haggerty, G., E., 2006. Music and Sexuality in Britten: Selected Essays. University of California Press.

Cooke, M., 1993. Britten and Shakespeare: Dramatic and Musical Cohesion in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Music & Letters,Vol. 74, No. 2 (May 1993), pp. 246-268 (23 pages), Published by: Oxford University Press.

Elliot, G., 2006. Benjamin Britten: The Spiritual Dimension, Oxford University Press. 

Keller, J., M., 2011. Chamber Music: A Listener’s Guide, Oxford University Press, pp. 130-132.


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