Benjamin Britten

(1913 - 1976)

Benjamin Britten Video Links

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

Here is a excellent clip of the beginning of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, with San Francisco’s own Michael Tilson Thomas conducting (a number of years ago!!)

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (cont.)

Here we have the continuation of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.

Simple Symphony

A first-rate performance of the first movement of Britten’s Simple Symphony. This is one of his most-often performed works. As you might have noted, Britten composed quite a lot of string music.  Britten was primarily a pianist, but also played the viola from an early age and was quite accomplished on the instrument.

Peter Grimes

Since Peter Grimes is considered to be one of the seminal operas of the 20th century, I thought it might be a good idea for you all to have an idea of what the story is about. Here is an elucidation of the story and plot of this magnificent opera.

Billy Budd

Here is some interesting information on Britten’s greatest work, Billy Budd. This is one of my favorite works of any composer! It is an opera about sailors! The original story is by Herman Melville.

Violin Concerto

Here is a video of the Britten Violin Concerto (as mentioned, one of my favorite works). What do you think the greatest violin concertos of the 20th century are?

War Requiem

Britten’s War Requiem (1961) is also considered to be one of his greatest masterpieces. The composer’s last choral work with full orchestra, the War Requiem marks the culmination of many recurring themes in his life and work. Britten inscribed the score in loving memory to four friends who perished in World War II.

Audio Selections

Major Works by Benjamin Britten


Peter Grimes (1945), Billy Budd (1951), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960)


Simple Symphony (1934), Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (1937), Piano Concerto (1938), Violin Concerto (1939), Serenade for Tenor Horn, and String Orchestra (1943), Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1946), Symphony for Cello and Orchestra (1963)


A Ceremony of Carols (1942), Spring Symphony (1949),
War Requeim

Britten also composed three string quartets, over 100 songs, and a significant amount of piano music, as well as various chamber works.

Main Style Characteristics

1)ECLECTICISM:  He borrowed all types of techniques from all sources, and was technically assured in all of them. The style of each work is shaped according to its own demands. He was not a doctrinaire pedagogue, and he belonged to no “school” of 20th century music. Some of the techniques he used freely are: bi-tonality, quartal harmony, 12-tone technique, etc.

2)RIGOROUS FORMAL PROCEDURES: Passacaglias, fugues, inventions, etc. (recall that Young Person’s Guide ends with a fugue…) He was very much interested in formal architecture and solid structural underpinnings for his music.

3)LYRICISM AND DRAMATIC POWER: This was hugely important in the genres of vocal and choral music. Of course, it is in his operas where one sees the apex of his lyric/dramatic powers. He composed over 100 songs.

The Young Person’s Guide
to the Orchestra 

(Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell), OP. 34


Henry Purcell was much on Benjamin Britten’s mind in 1945. November 21st was the 250th anniversary of Purcell’s death, and Britten paid homage to the great Restoration composer in two works written for a concert commemorating the event. One was the song cycle Holy Sonnets of John Donne, heavily influenced in its structure and word setting by the music of Purcell. The other was the Second String Quartet, whose finale is a Chacony (“Chaconne”) modeled on Purcell’s splendid examples of the form. It was also in 1945 that Britten and Peter Pears began work on their performing editions of Purcell’s songs.

Quiz yourself on facts about Britten

The Dirge



Aria Italiana

Bourree Classique

Funeral March

CYS Performance History

  1. Bullet Mar. 2008

  2. Bullet May 2014