When the curtain fell at the conclusion of the first performance of the opera Peter Grimes in 1945, Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) had proven decisively what many had suspected – that he was unquestionably England’s finest living composer. Britten had enjoyed success prior to Grimes (notably with the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge and Piano Concerto), but the tremendous ovation that greeted the opera not only confirmed his reputation, it raised his profile immeasurably and heralded the start of a long career as a composer of opera. Later successes in the theatre included Billy Budd, The Turn of the Screw and Death in Venice. As befitting an English composer, Britten was drawn to choral music and with the War Requiem (1962) he composed one of the great 20th-century works for choir and orchestra. But Britten was not only interested in large-scale music. He arranged British folksongs for voice and piano, wrote music for musical amateurs and was interested in music education (his most famous work in this respect is The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra). Britten was openly homosexual, which is notable given that sexual acts between consenting adult males were punishable by law for most of his lifetime. Britten’s life-long partner was the tenor Peter Pears, who sang the title role in Peter Grimes and many other works. Britten accepted a life peerage in June 1976 (he died later that year). Pears was knighted in 1978. Britten and Pears founded the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. Held every June, it continues to this day.

© Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra