Five facts about Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten put a small seaside town on the classical music map forever after he launched Aldeburgh Festival. In his centenary year, we offer five facts about England’s most famous composer.

The beach at Aldeburgh © Philip Vile

1. Benjamin Britten was born on 22 November, which is the same day at the feast of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music. His earliest attempt at composition came when he was just six years old. He wrote a piece called Do you no my daddy has gone to London today (sic).

Britten as a child

2. Britten was inspired by the natural soundscape of Aldeburgh in Suffolk, which was where he lived, worked and felt happiest. He would go on long walks and absorb the birdsong, the sound of the waves on shingle and the wind through the reeds. Although he didn’t try to replicate these sounds exactly in his music, they were in his consciousness when he worked in his studio at home in The Red House, and they do seem to come out in his music. He was such a skillful ornothologist that he could even teach birdsong!

Snape Maltings Concert Hall © Philip Vile

3. Britten was dedicated to improving community spirit and was an ambassador of music for everyone. His opera, Noyes Fludde was designed for both amateur and professional musicians, to be performed in local public buildings such as church halls rather than proper theatre spaces. He created Friday Afternoons – a collection of songs to be sung by children at that particular time of week.

4. Along with his lifelong friend Peter Pears, Britten conceived Snape Maltings Concert Hall near Aldeburgh. It was officially opened by The Queen in 1967 and has now become a major destination for classical musicians from around the world.

Programme for the first Aldeburgh Festival in 1948

5. It is estimated that there will be over 2,000 events in 39 countries to celebrate the centenary year of Benjamin Britten. In Aldeburgh, the festival (running from 7 to 23 June) will see the music from one of Britten’s most famous works, the opera Peter Grimes, performed on the beach.

If you’d like to know more, read our feature on Benjamin Britten in the current issue of BRITAIN magazine, which you can buy here.