Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Benjamin Britten

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Benjamin Britten, String Quartet No. 1

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears (1910-1986), left England in late April 1939 for North America. Their ship arrived in Quebec on May 9, 1939, then sailed on to Montreal. After staying a few weeks in Canada, Britten and Pears set off for New York, where they were reunited with the poet, fellow pacifist and homosexual W.H. Auden.  Britten was stunned by New York City, writing a friend: “New York is a staggering place. Very beautiful in some ways – intensely alive and doing – bewildering in some ways, but always interesting.” Britten and Pears remained on the east coast of the United States for two years. Britten composed and had his works performed; he and Pears performed together and separately; they schmoozed, partied, and became part of the New York music scene. Britten used their residence in Amityville, on Long Island as his base of operations for concert trips to New England, Chicago, and various other locations in the American Midwest. But for Britten (as for so many of us!) the lure of California was overwhelming, and in June of 1941, Britten and Pears drove across country from New York to California in an old, […]

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Music History Monday: Benjamin Britten: The Making of a Composer

We mark the birth on November 22, 1913 – 108 years ago today – of the English composer, pianist, and conductor Edward Benjamin Britten in Lowestoft, Suffolk, on the eastern coast of England, roughly 105 miles northeast of London. He died in nearby Aldeburgh on December 4, 1976, at the age of 63. The danger of overstatement is great when tossing around superlatives, but with Britten it’s no danger at all. He was not just the most important English composer of the twentieth century; he was quite arguably the most important English-born composer since Henry Purcell, who was born in London in 1659, 246 years before Britten. Britain composed scads of music(that’s a musical term, “scads”): orchestral music, choral music, chamber music, vocal music, and film music as well. But pride of place must go to his dramatic works: his War Requiem (of 1962) and his fifteen operas. Those operas include Peter Grimes (1945), Billy Budd (1951), Turn of the Screw (1954), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960), Prodigal Son (1968), and Death in Venice (1974). Britten’s operas constitute, by any measure, the most significant body of opera composed during the twentieth century. Britten was lucky enough to have experienced fame […]

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