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Britten, ( Edward ) Benjamin free

  • Jennifer Doctor,
  • Judith LeGrove,
  • Paul Banks,
  • Heather Wiebe
  •  and Philip Brett

( b Lowestoft , Nov 22, 1913 ; d Aldeburgh , Dec 4, 1976 ). English composer , conductor and pianist . He and his contemporary Michael Tippett are among several pairs of composers who dominated English art music in the 20th century. Of their music, Britten’s early on achieved, and has maintained, wider international circulation. An exceedingly practical and resourceful musician, Britten worked with increasing determination to recreate the role of leading national composer held during much of his own life by Vaughan Williams, from whom he consciously distanced himself. Notable among his musical and professional achievements are the revival of English opera, initiated by the success of Peter Grimes in 1945 ; the building of institutions to ensure the continuing viability of musical drama; and outreach to a wider audience, particularly children, in an effort to increase national musical literacy and awareness. Equally important in this was his remaining accessible as a composer, rejecting the isolationism of the postwar avant garde and developing a distinctive tonal language that allowed amateurs and professionals alike to love his work and to enjoy performing and listening to it. Above all, he imbued his works with his own personal concerns, some of them hidden, principally those having to do with his love of men and boys, some more public, like his fiercely held pacifist beliefs, in ways that allowed people to sense the passion and conviction behind them even if unaware of their full implication. He also performed a fascinating, as well as problematic, assimilation of (or rapprochement with) Asian cultures, attempting an unusual integration of various non-Western musical traditions with his own increasingly linear style.

1. Childhood, adolescence, 1913–30.

  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe
  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe

Britten was the youngest of four children born into a middle-class family in Lowestoft, on the Suffolk coast. The family house was a substantial villa overlooking the sea. His father, a dentist, appears to have been a bit severe, even ‘hard’, and not a contributor to the family’s extensive musical life, though charming and supportive in letters to his son. Benjamin received encouragement from his mother Edith, herself a singer and pianist. She was determined that he should succeed and controlled his life rigorously until her death in 1937 . She was clearly the centre of his emotional world. The coincidence of his birthday with St Cecilia’s day must have seemed a good omen for her ambitious dream of his becoming ‘the fourth B’: like many aspects of the composer’s childhood, it has been celebrated in Britten lore and literature. An early attempt at play writing and fervent exploration of the piano as well as a substantial number of compositions written before he was ten have been taken to suggest an almost Mozartian precocity in his otherwise standard progress to preparatory school, a small local day school which he entered at eight.

At school, he appears to have diverted any adult disapproval and schoolboy bullying occasioned by his music and sensitive nature by proficiency at sports (he was a keen cricketer) and a certain toughness. He had piano lessons with Ethel Astle, passing the Associated Board Grade 8 at 13, and began viola lessons at ten with Audrey Alston, who encouraged him to attend concerts in Norwich. It was through her he met the composer Frank Bridge. Mrs Britten had failed in attempts to draw wider attention to the prolific output of her son, who at 14 had 100 opus numbers to his credit (several have been published, mostly since his death, and all are being incorporated into the newest catalogue of Britten’s works; see Mark in Cooke, D1999, and Walker, D2008). But Bridge was impressed, and persuaded Britten’s parents to allow him to travel to London for composition lessons. These may have injured his ego, but they also helped Britten to introduce a certain rigour into his composition. The cardinal principles of Bridge’s teaching were ‘that you should find yourself and be true to what you found. The other … was his scrupulous attention to good technique’ (Britten, Sunday Telegraph , 17 Nov 1963 ). The String Quartet in F, completed in April 1928 , is among the first substantial works written under Bridge, whose influence is also evident in a song cycle with orchestra, Quatre chansons françaises , composed that summer for the older Brittens’ 27th wedding anniversary. These settings of Hugo and Verlaine allude to Wagner filtered through Gallic gestures, but the diatonic nursery-like tune for the sad boy with the consumptive mother in L’enfance is entirely characteristic.

In September 1928 Britten entered Gresham’s, a public school at Holt in north Norfolk. This was a difficult and belittling experience, for the music master disparaged his composition, and the bullying (of other boys, not himself) outraged his always incendiary sense of justice. He felt keenly his first separation from home. One outlet was intensely passionate letters to his mother, another talk of suicide in his diary, yet another lapsing into psychosomatic illness, an involuntary defence that continued as a safety valve throughout his life. The music master eventually came round, at least to the extent of performing his Bagatelle for violin, viola and piano in a school concert in March 1930 . But the family allowed him to leave after two years when he unexpectedly passed his School Certificate in 1930 .

The lessons with Bridge continued to stimulate and direct his need to compose. The single-movement Rhapsody for string quartet of March 1929 looks forward to the two Phantasy compositions of the early 1930s. The following year came the Quartettino , with its conscientious if garrulous motivic working out of a five-note motto; and there were several works featuring the viola, including a solo piece (published posthumously as Elegy ), written just after Britten left Gresham’s and perhaps hinting at his unhappiness there. It was followed by two sketches (published posthumously as Two Portraits ), the first a vigorous movement for strings depicting his school friend David Layton (whom Britten described in his diary as ‘clean, healthy thinking & balanced’, Evans, A2009, 335) and the second entitled ‘E.B.B.’, with solo viola playing a melancholic folklike tune, evidently a self-portrait. The well-known Hymn to the Virgin , composed during his last term at Gresham’s, was long one of the two earliest compositions in his published catalogue of works, together with the setting of Hilaire Belloc’s The Birds composed a year earlier.

2. College and the profession, 1930–39.

  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe
  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe

The Birds , A Wealden Trio (a carol for women’s voices) and several instrumental pieces had been sent off as part of a successful application for a scholarship to the RCM. Although this was an improvement over Gresham’s, Britten did not in later years conceal his dismay at the ‘amateurish and folksy’ atmosphere he encountered among the students. Arthur Benjamin was his piano teacher, and he went to John Ireland for composition lessons, though Bridge remained more influential. Later, Britten admitted to Joseph Cooper that ‘Ireland nursed me very gently through a very, very difficult musical adolescence’ ( Letters from a Life , A1991–2012, i, 147).

Living in London, however, gave the young composer the opportunity to widen his knowledge of the repertory. Although Bridge had steered his interests in the direction of modernism (he would not have encountered Schoenberg at the RCM, as Henry Boys later noted: Letters , i, 397), the young Britten was still in love with Beethoven and Brahms during his early years there and showed little of his later hostility to the English ‘pastoral school’. His diary entries from January 1931 , however, chronicle a fascinating array of performances and reactions to them: he ‘could not make head or tail’ of Schoenberg’s Erwartung ; found Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring ‘bewildering & terrifying’ but his Petrushka ‘an inspiration from beginning to end’; and the Symphony of Psalms quickly became a classic for Britten. Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen was ‘a lesson to all the Elgars &Strausses in the world’ – Mahler was of course to become a major influence on his orchestral technique and sense of compositional irony, and in 1943 he wrote about the Fourth Symphony that ‘I have almost more affection for that piece than for any I know’. Britten found himself ‘absolutely incapable of enjoying Elgar, for more than 2 minutes’. He later told Walton that hearing his Viola Concerto and overture Portsmouth Point at that time ‘was a great turning point in my musical life … you showed me the way of being relaxed and fresh, &intensely personal &yet still with the terms of reference which I had to have’. Many of the observations have to do with individual performers, not just conductors and soloists, but also players in the orchestra. After a performance by the Berlin PO under Furtwängler in 1932 he wrote: ‘F’s readings were exaggerated &sentimentalised (esp. so in last item [Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no.6] – no wonder a member of the audience was sick!! The orch, is a magnificent body, tho’ slightly off colour to-day (e.g. wind intonation, 1 st clar. &1 st Horn) Strings are marvellous. Timpanist great. Marvellous ensemble and discipline’.

By 1933 his attitudes were clarifying. From 3 March dates his comment on ‘two brilliant folk-song arrangements of Percy Grainger … knocking all the V. Williams and R.O. Morris arrangements into a cocked-hat’. Early in 1935 he complained to the composer Grace Williams about the ‘“pi” and artificial mysticism combined with … technical incompetence’ in Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs , and later in the year he lamented to Marjorie Fass, a quaint intimate of the Bridges, the news of Berg’s death: ‘The real musicians are so few &far between, arn’t they? Apart from the Bergs, Stravinskys, Schönbergs &Bridges one is a bit stumped for names, isn’t one? Markievitch may be – but personally I feel that he’s not got there yet. Shostakovich – perhaps – possibly’. In October 1936 Britten condemned the Sibelius in Moeran’s G minor Symphony: ‘This is going to be almost as bad as the Brahms influence on English music I fear’. By 1952 Britten admitted that ‘I play through all his [Brahms’s] music every so often to see if I am right about him; I usually find that I underestimated last time how bad it was!’. That quotation comes from the frankly canonizing anthology edited by Donald Mitchell and Hans Keller in which Lord Harewood presented what is tantamount to an official lineage: Monteverdi, Purcell, Bach, Gluck, Mozart, Weber, Schubert, Verdi, Mahler, ‘even Tchaikovsky, if he is played in a restrained, though vital way’, Berg and Stravinsky.

At the end of the second year at the RCM Britten won the Cobbett Chamber Music Prize with his Phantasy in F minor for string quintet. It received its first professional performance at a Macnaghten-Lemare concert in 1932 together with three two-part songs on poems of de la Mare (his first published works). The Phantasy is more adventurous and focussed than the String Quartet in D of the first year and shows a tug of war between Ireland, who appears to have been pushing Britten to the vocal-pastoral version of Englishness (he wrote mainly vocal music during his first year with Ireland), and Bridge.

More remarkable is the Sinfonietta, his op.1, written in three weeks during summer 1932 and first performed at another Macnaghten-Lemare concert in January 1933 , with Britten himself conducting it at the RCM in March (the Mendelssohn prize for which it was submitted went to another student, though Britten received a consolatory £50). Its opening A–B♭ dissonance and adventurous scoring aggressively advertises an allegiance to European modernism, and even when it lapses into English rhapsodic lyricism in the slow movement the tautness of the ensuing violin duo rescues it from any debility. The debt to Schoenberg’s first Kammersymphonie (pointed out by Erwin Stein in Mitchell and Keller, D1952), ultimately extends perhaps to the manner of thematic derivation that Peter Evans has argued as central to Britten’s technique. The careful working out of themes and contrasts also dominates the Phantasy Quartet for oboe and strings, also written in 1932 , and first performed in August 1933 on the BBC. As remarkable as either is an ambitious Double Concerto in B minor for violin and viola begun in May 1932 and interrupted for the composition of the Sinfonietta. It shares features with op.1, such as the three-movement plan, the rhapsodic middle movement leading directly into the tarantella-like finale. Though perhaps less self-consciously modern, with its virtuoso solo writing, it is longer than the Sinfonietta and equally well sustained and argued. (It has been realized from Britten’s annotated composition sketch, his customary original short score written in pencil.)

In December 1932 Britten graduated and garnered a £100 travel grant. He returned to Lowestoft after a further Macnaghten-Lemare concert which included the unfinished quartet Alla quartetto serioso: ‘Go play, boy, play’ . He intended to use the money to go to study with Berg, but his parents, to whom the RCM authorities had suggested that Berg was in some way ‘immoral’ and ‘not a good influence’, scotched the plan.

So he stayed at home, riffling through his voluminous juvenilia for material for his Simple Symphony and getting the first performance on the BBC of A Boy was Born , an ambitious set of choral variations in which his hard-won instrumental technique was problematically assigned to voices. Even here, though, the unusual juxtaposition of an accompanimental texture built on the ‘snow on snow’ image in Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the bleak midwinter’ and the regular strophes of the Corpus Christi carol sung by a boys’ chorus is characteristic of later Britten. In March 1934 he visited Florence for a performance of his Phantasy oboe quartet at the ISCM festival, which brought him to the notice of the international new music community. Later in the year came the Te Deum in C and the Jubilate Deo in E♭ for St Mark’s, North Audley Street, London, whose choir furnished the boys for the BBC performance of A Boy was Born . Apart from his father’s death in April 1934 , things were beginning to turn out well for Britten’s 21st birthday: the BBC performed the Sinfonietta; OUP decided to publish more works (Boosey &Hawkes were to step in barely a year later with an exclusive contract and, slightly later, a regular stipend); and he finally visited Vienna – though with his mother as chaperone and without meeting Berg – where he began work on the Suite for violin and piano.

At this point Britten started job hunting, and in May 1935 found ideal employment under Albert Cavalcanti in John Grierson’s General Post Office Film Unit, working on the documentary The King’s Stamp . It offered the challenge of writing to order at high speed, devising sound-effects and matching aspects of film technique that had a lasting impact on his composition. More important, it gave him entry into an artistic and intellectual world as liberating for him as the Diaghilev circle had been for Stravinsky. At its centre, and the most influential of all Britten’s close friends, was the poet W.H. Auden, who quickly gave him the vacant post of composer in his ‘gang’ of artists and writers (Carpenter, C1992, p.69). It included those associated with the GPO Film Unit, including Christopher Isherwood, and with the experimental Group Theatre, for which Britten wrote incidental music, including that to the Auden-Isherwood The Ascent of F6 . Also involved in the GPO films was Montagu Slater, eventually the librettist of Peter Grimes , for several of whose plays Britten wrote the music. Films that involved an Auden-Britten collaboration, such as Coal Face and Night Mail , though celebrated, are only a small proportion of his projects, which included Lotte Reiniger’s film about the Post Office Savings Bank, The Tocher , from which in 1935–6 was drawn material for the choral and orchestral suites based on Rossini. Britten’s facility in this field led to work with other film companies and to an even longer association with the BBC ( 1937–47 ) on feature programmes and radio dramas whose music is only now beginning to reveal latent trends as well as a wide range of parody. If the clever cabaret songs (some to words by Auden) written for Hedli Andersen cause no surprise, the pseudo-Bach arias in one of R. Ellis Roberts’s pretentious BBC religious features, ‘The World of the Spirit’, show how easily Britten could have fallen into a more conventional ‘neo-classicism’.

Britten’s political awakening was much accelerated by his fresh circumstances. Dazzled by his new friends, he embraced their values and politics, which allowed him the ‘outsider’ status and rebellious stance he needed to jettison the safety of Lowestoft: he must have enjoyed, and been pained by, arguing about communism with his mother and refusing to go to Communion with her, as well as the slight disapproval of the ‘Brits’ (the Bridge ménage à trois ) towards his clever new friends. Politics went hand in hand with a growing awareness of his sexuality and its social implications. He had carried off the asexual British schoolboy role rather well – for one thing, it concealed the obscure wounds also revealed in the stories, probably fictional, of early sexual abuse from a schoolmaster and his father’s liking for boys, told to Eric Crozier and Myfanwy Piper (Carpenter, 19–25) – but his undoubted desire for ‘his own kind’ was beginning to break through. Many of his new friends, including Auden, who imparted a carpe diem message and undoubtedly lectured Britten on the topic, were almost openly gay, at least among themselves, and he must have realized that the left-wing, pacifist, agnostic and queer model they offered him provided a suitable identity niche in which to lodge his particular personal concerns, though few of his friends believed that he was ever entirely comfortable with it.

The immediate result of the friendship with Auden, apart from the flood of film scores, was a large orchestral song cycle on human relations to animals that would both attack the fox-hunting set at home and act as a parable for the worsening political situation abroad. Early in 1936 , Auden chose three poems and wrote a prologue and an epilogue. In April Britten attended the ISCM festival in Barcelona, where he played his Suite with Antonio Brosa and heard Berg’s Violin Concerto. The important new work, Our Hunting Fathers , went forward during the summer, and predictably met some disapproval at its first performance at the Norwich Triennial Festival in September. Later even Britten himself treated it as something of an embarrassment. Perhaps Auden’s voice ventriloquizes too insistently; yet it is Britten’s first major work to encapsulate a social or political issue in a way calculated to challenge received opinion because of the unusual combination of high drama and biting irony in an up-to-date eclectic score brilliantly orchestrated. If this way of thinking about music and art were all that Auden gave Britten, it was ultimately the gift that turned him into a composer of lasting impact. On this aspect of his work, Britten later wrote (in connection with Sinfonia da Requiem ), ‘I don’t believe you can express social or political or economic theories in music, but by coupling new music with certain well known musical phrases, I think it’s possible to get over certain ideas’ ( Letters , ii, 705).

In January 1937 , Edith Britten died unexpectedly after an illness. Britten was both devastated and, at a level just beginning to find expression in his diary, relieved to be free from her controlling influence. An immediate result was an exploration of those submerged sexual feelings that Auden, Isherwood and others had attempted to urge to the surface. On 6 March, at lunch with the conductor Trevor Harvey, he met a tenor, named in his diary as ‘Peter Piers’. A year later he and Pears were sharing a London flat, although their sexual relationship only began early in their time in North America ( 1939–42 ). It was a fortunate match for Britten on account of his real need for protection. On a cultural level it was unusual for being between two individuals of the same race, class and age, each with commensurable and connected talents that led to their spurring one another on.

In 1937 and for some time after, Britten was still trying out potential liaisons of a similar kind. But much of his own affectional and sexual imagination he invested in people younger than himself. In summer 1938 he renewed contact with Wulff Scherchen (son of the conductor Hermann), who had made an impression four years earlier in Florence. Scherchen, now 18, responded with alacrity and an affair appears to have ensued. Piers Dunkerley, a slightly younger boy whom Britten had met in 1934 while visiting his old preparatory school, brought out a typically parental, advisory streak in the composer: ‘I am very fond of him – thank heaven not sexually’, he wrote, ‘but I am getting to such a condition that I am lost without some children (of either sex) near me’ ( Letters , i, 403).

So it proved: the ease with which he could enter into children’s worlds, as well as the precipitous moments in his encounters with young boys, are outlined in some detail by Carpenter (especially 341–54) and more recently by John Bridcut (C2006). Britten was captured at many levels by the notion of return to childhood, and by the fragile state of innocence that it seemed to represent.

Meanwhile, the stream of film and incidental music was augmented by some important events, such as the amazingly rapid completion of a major new work, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge , for the Boyd Neel Orchestra to play at the Salzburg Festival in August 1937 . With its penetrating and unexpected parodies of genres and styles, and magnificent fugue and finale containing other references to Bridge’s music, this work became for a time a standard against which other Britten works were judged. His adopting the congenial variation form had been foreshadowed in the slight Temporal Variations for oboe and piano written and performed at the end of 1936 and abandoned – the Times critic’s reaction was to become a standard refrain: ‘It is the kind of music that is commonly called “clever”’ ( Letters , ii, 784). The same might have been said of the Auden song collection that followed the Bridge Variations. On this Island open with a Baroque flourish and Purcellian melisma that no sensitive English songwriter of the previous 50 years would have countenanced, and ends with a throwaway dance-hall tune to match Auden’s parody of bourgeois materialistic existence. December 1937 saw the completion of the suite of Catalan dances, Mont Juic , written in collaboration with Lennox Berkeley in memory of Peter Burra, a close friend of Pears’s. Berkeley was to move to the Old Mill at Snape that Britten had bought using his inheritance from his mother.

The following year brought an unusual triumph when on 18 August 1938 Britten played the first performance of his Piano Concerto, a display piece dedicated to Berkeley, at the BBC Promenade Concerts under Sir Henry Wood. An eloquent passacaglia-style Impromptu supplanted the weakest movement, the cheekier Recitative and Aria, in a 1945 revision. But the original slow movement belongs more fully to a work that is as much a milestone as the Bridge variations. After the responsible, serious instrumental pieces of the 1930s, this display of high spirits touched with sentimentality indicates a willingness to abandon a too-limiting decorum and give in to sensuality. The reference in this simply joyous, often almost campy work is Poulenc rather than Shostakovich, Prokofiev or any more approved master. No wonder Britten’s friends and chief defenders, as well as the avuncular journalistic critics, deplored it: according to Marjorie Fass, the Brits ‘all utterly agree with the drastic criticisms of The Times &Sunday Times &Observer &Telegraph’ ( Letters , i, 577), and even Peter Evans refers to ‘the irritatingly smart vulgarity of the final march’ (D1979, p.47). Britten himself could not ‘see anything problematic about the work. I should have thought that it is the kind of music that either one liked or disliked – it is so simple’ ( Letters , i, 576).

After this, apart from incidental music for a big Basil Dean production (J.B. Priestley’s Johnson over Jordan ) opening in February 1939 , there were several parting salutes to Britten’s radical affiliations: incidental music for the Group Theatre production of the Auden-Isherwood play On the Frontier , and a partsong Advance Democracy , written for the Co-operative movement to words by the editor of Left Review , Randall Swingler (both in November, 1938); and in February–March 1939 an orchestral cantata, Ballad of Heroes , to words by Swingler and Auden in commemoration of the British members of the International Brigade who fell fighting the fascists in Spain.

3. North America, 1939–42.

  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe
  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe

Britten left for North America in April 1939 . There were many reasons for him to try his hand abroad: the growing cloud of fascism over Europe; the plight of pacifists in the war that seemed inevitable; the departure of Auden and Isherwood in January; the frantic pace of his career and the need to determine his own direction; discouragement from patronizing or hostile reviews (to which the thin-skinned composer had already begun to show sensitivity); the opening up of new opportunities; and the curtailing of difficult emotional and sexual situations from which, from his letters, he appears to be trying to rescue himself – with Scherchen, Berkeley and perhaps others. The way was now clear for a commitment to Pears. After arriving in Canada and then travelling to New York, they visited Copland at Woodstock in the Catskills and rented accommodation there for part of the summer. They then went to Amityville on Long Island to visit Pears’s friend Elizabeth Mayer, who accommodated them and also provided a surrogate mother for Britten.

The music of Britten’s American years reflects his emotional turmoil. Young Apollo , written in summer 1939 for a CBC broadcast with the composer as piano soloist, was inspired not only by the last lines of Keats’s Hyperion but also by Scherchen; originally designated op.16, it was withdrawn and not heard again until after Britten died, either because of the personal association, or (more likely) because of its dependence, musically, on an elaboration of the A major triad, a kind of musical minimalism that was not the order of the day. Les illuminations , completed in October, presents a fuller and more complicated picture of (homo)eroticism, focussed on the inevitably confused subject who ‘alone holds the key to this savage parade’. It incorporates a typical double focus on the major triads on B♭ and E which is used not only to sustain ambiguity over long musical stretches but also (as in the opening fanfare) to express simultaneously exhilaration and confusion. Whatever one makes of the dedication of Antique to Scherchen and Being Beauteous to Pears, or of the direct sexual imagery with which the latter ends, or indeed the cruising depicted in Parade (its theme taken from the abortive Go play, boy, play suite), it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the piece as a whole encapsulates a certain hard-won victory over the distancing effect from the purely corporeal to which British middle-class education was dedicated. It joyously and unashamedly reclaims music as an immediate, physical act. It is ironic that the decade of technical struggle towards professionalism should have led to the moment at the end of Phrase , after the transfigured exclamation ‘et je danse’ on a top B♭, where the string orchestra turns into a giant guitar to accompany a delirious diatonic melody supported by root position major chords. Copland – surely the ‘older American composer’ who said of Antique that he ‘did not know how Britten dared to write the melody’ – was shocked; even Pears labelled this incandescent work ‘a trifle too pat’ (Mitchell and Keller, D1952, pp.65–6).

The Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo , completed almost exactly a year later and written for and dedicated to Pears, can be taken as a further gesture towards this reclamation of the physical (as before, through another language and culture) and the official inception of their partnership. Among the other works, Sinfonia da Requiem , ‘combining my ideas on war &a memorial for Mum &Pop’ ( Letters , ii, 803), is a culmination of much of the earlier symphonically conceived music and is characteristic of later works in combining personal and social concerns. The Japanese government, who paid for it, would not perform it at the festival celebrating their empire’s 2600th anniversary; one can only wonder at Britten’s naivety in accepting the commission.

1939–42 was a prolific period, for Britten also completed the Violin Concerto in the summer and autumn of 1939 when Britain declared war. The work opens in a suitably foreboding manner and ends in melancholy and nostalgia – so different from the ebullient Piano Concerto of little more than a year earlier. There was also the rather homespun Canadian Carnival , a Sonatina romantica to wean a keen amateur pianist host from Weber, Diversions for piano (left hand) and orchestra, two two-piano works, a second Rossini suite, to be used by Balanchine in a work for Lincoln Kirstein’s American Ballet Company, String Quartet no.1 and the eccentric-sounding Scottish Ballad for two pianos and orchestra. Among works composed early in the visit, besides the Violin Concerto and incidental music for a further BBC play, was A.M.D.G. , a setting of seven poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, intended for Pears’s Round Table Singers, but abandoned. In late 1941 came another occasional piece (now called An American Overture ) heavily indebted to Copland and written for Rodzinski and the Cleveland Orchestra; when it came to light in the early 1970s, Britten commented that his ‘recollection of that time was of complete incapacity to work; my only achievements being a few Folk-song arrangements and some realisations of Henry Purcell’ ( Letters , ii, 985).

One important project of the American period, Paul Bunyan , was also one of its most problematic, an operetta for young people written with W.H. Auden. It received a bruising response from ‘old stinker Virgil Thompson’ [ sic ] and the other New York critics, and it was not helped by controversy surrounding its choice as the first work sponsored by the League of Composers in its new project to foster American opera. matters. The work was withdrawn and reinstated as op.17 only when Britten took it up near the end of his life (an overture, wisely abandoned as too long, was subsequently orchestrated and published). It has continued to be a peripheral work in the Britten canon, but it touches on some of the composer’s central themes, including the separation from a state of innocence (in this case embodied by the world of nature) and the difficulty of communication and connection (Seymour, E2004, pp.26, 34–5). Its eclectic array of styles is to some extent typical of Britten in this period, when his music was often criticized for its ‘cosmopolitanism’ and perceived ‘cleverness’ or superficiality. Even Copland ‘picked certain things in Ben to pieces’, as Colin McPhee put it, adding that ‘he must search deeper for a more personal, more interesting idiom … good craftsmanship is not enough’ (Brett, D2006, p.132). The composition and production of Bunyan involved Britten and Pears in exchanging the luxury of the Mayer Long Island household for Auden’s louche and alcoholic lifestyle in a Brooklyn Heights villa (see Tippins, C2005); from this bohemian atmosphere they fled soon after the production of Bunyan at Columbia University in May 1941 . They took up an invitation to stay with the duo pianists Rae Robertson and his wife Ethel Bartlett at Escondido in California (where the Scottish Ballad , dedicated to them, was mostly written); there they came across the radio talk by E.M. Forster printed in The Listener that began: ‘To talk about Crabbe is to talk about England’. Dissatisfaction with American life had already surfaced in Britten’s letters (‘the country has all the faults of Europe and none of its attractions’, he wrote to a friend: Letters , ii, 797), as well as in one of those illnesses that often signalled his dissociation from his surroundings. Forster’s article served as a catalyst to initiate the next stage in Britten’s progress.

The flight to North America had enabled Britten to find out more about himself in general, to mature as an artist and person, and to find a certain level of acceptance among others and, more important, in himself about his sexual orientation (although many people recall continuing signs of shame). It had also given him an opportunity to reflect on his direction. The epiphany brought about by Forster’s article not only sent him and Pears to Crabbe for the extraordinary subject of his first real opera but also may have given him the idea that if he did return it should be with the intention of becoming the central ‘classical music’ figure in Britain (as Copland was struggling to do in the far more diffuse culture of the USA).

Whether or not this was a fully conscious process, Britten began to define his relation to the British musical tradition during the American years. There was, for example, the need to release aggression towards it, palpable in the 1941 essay ‘England and the Folk-Art Problem’, a statement so angry that it studiously avoids mentioning Vaughan Williams or Holst; Parry and Elgar are projected as the binary opposition haunting English composition, the one favouring ‘the amateur idea and … folk-art’, the other somewhat surprisingly seen as emphasizing ‘the importance of technical efficiency and [welcoming] any foreign influences that can be profitably assimilated’. The authenticity of folksong is intelligently attacked, and composers’ dependence on it as raw material is deemed either unsatisfactory or the sign of a need for discipline which the second rate cannot find in themselves. Actual English folktunes are allowed a certain ‘quiet, uneventful charm’ but ‘seldom have any striking rhythms or memorable melodic features’. Yet the ambivalence, reflected in so many aspects of his life, did not prevent Britten from making a considerable investment in arranging them – ostensibly for himself and Pears to perform, though as time went on and volume after volume succeeded the first (printed in 1943 ) ulterior motives might be suspected. They gave Britten the chance, for example, to declare his independence from the ‘Pastoral School’ by conceiving the exercise of arrangement very differently. Unlike Cecil Sharp and Vaughan Williams, who assigned an idealized, essential artistic quality to the melodies which their accompaniments were thought to reflect, Britten recognized that the venue changed the genre and turned them in effect into lieder or art-song, and proceeded brilliantly on that premise. To see how far he got one should turn from the easy seductiveness of The Salley Gardens and the psychological perceptiveness of The Ash Grove to the exquisite and exhilarating settings of Moore’s Irish Melodies published in 1957 .

Equally important in this redefinition of himself are Britten’s ‘realizations’ of the music of Purcell and his contemporaries – the Tudor composers (except for Dowland) were out of bounds because of their adoption by Vaughan Williams and the pastoralists. Two song arrangements date from at least 1939 , several were done in the USA, and a much larger number were prompted by the 1945 celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Purcell’s death. The choice was in tune with Britten’s aesthetic as an aspiring dramatic composer: he had already adopted a rhetorical style far beyond the parameters of contemporary English songwriters with their devotion to speech-rhythm, and was later in the booklet accompanying Peter Grimes to make a manifesto-like statement about restoring ‘to the musical setting of the English language a brilliance, freedom and vitality that have been curiously rare since the death of Purcell’ (Brett, E1983, p.149).

The results are not so easy to assess as the folksong arrangements. Partly it is a matter of culture and epoch: ‘realization’, prevalent up to the 1950s, is the antithesis of later appeals to ‘authenticity’ in the performance of early music. Even in the 1940s, though, Britten’s interventionist approach was controversial, for his contribution appears to vie for attention with Purcell’s melodies or declamatory gestures, producing a and the bifocal effect (see Wiebe, D2012, p.107; Kildea, D2002, pp.92–3). Britten is at his best when Purcell’s music is at its strangest: Saul and the Witch at Endor , for instance, is inspired in its use of piano sonorities to re-compose the work. The character and extent of these pieces (which number 40, far greater than the demand for mere recital fodder) raise another issue, however, about whether the process is more to do with appropriation or competition than homage, not a simple musical act enabling Purcell to be ‘heard’ but rather another Oedipal episode in Britten’s complicated trajectory.

With a relation to indigenous and historical music more clearly defined, one further element of the British tradition demanded attention. As if to think of England were to think of choral music, on the journey home Britten wrote two substantial pieces, the unaccompanied Hymn to Saint Cecilia and much of A Ceremony of Carols , eventually scored for boys’ voices and harp. These pieces combine a secure technique and an exquisite sound palette, a modernistic coolness in expression with a plentiful supply of emotional intensity, a musical language distinguished at once by its pronounced character as well as its restraint: all the marks of a classicism that cannot easily be discerned in earlier British music of the century.

4. Return to England, 1942–50.

  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe
  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe

Any bid for pre-eminence, as Britten must have realized on arriving back in England in April 1942 , was a matter not simply of matching Vaughan Williams’s achievement but of contributing something new and powerful to British musical life. The choice was opera. Vaughan Williams had been unsuccessful in this sphere and, further, no English opera had made its way into the standard repertory. But the risk of failure was greater, as Britten was aware. He still played childlike superstitious games to bolster his confidence as a composer (Carpenter, 239–40), and made comments like the one remembered by Tippett, with whom Britten and Pears struck up a close friendship: ‘I am possibly an anachronism. I am a composer of opera, and that is what I am going to be, throughout’ (Carpenter, 193–4).

Pears had worked on the scenario of Peter Grimes , the story that the two had culled from Crabbe’s The Borough after reading Forster’s article. It was an unlikely and unpromising tale of a rough fisherman who beat and lost his apprentices, went mad and died. Isherwood, who turned down the job of librettist, was ‘absolutely convinced that it wouldn’t work’ (Brett, E1983, p.36). But they persevered, turning Grimes into a more sympathetic figure of ‘difference’, a misunderstood dreamer. Montagu Slater, whom they now contacted, further shaped the libretto to render Grimes a tragic figure of alienation rather than simply a violent brute. To avoid patholigizing Grimes, for instance, the references to a domineering father in earlier versions of the libretto were erased. The result was an opera that worked to connect the private concerns of a couple of left-wing, pacifist lovers to public concerns to which almost anyone could relate. It was a brilliant appeal, made more palpable and convincing through music, to the alienation of every member of the audience: ‘In each of us there is something of a Grimes’ (Keller, in Brett, E1983, p.105).

The novelist Colin MacInnes confided to his private diary in the late 1940s that ‘Grimes is the homosexual hero. The melancholy of the opera is the melancholy of homosexuality’ (Tony Gould, Inside Outsider: the Life and Times of Colin MacInnes , London, 1983 , p.82). For Philip Brett, writing decades later, the opera’s themes of marginalization and persecution in an oppressive, closed community called out to be interpreted as a kind of allegory of homosexual experience, in ways that could not have been publicly articulated in the 1940s. In Brett’s influential account, first voiced in 1977 and elaborated in his 1983 study, the story of Grimes is largely one of ‘internalization’, the classic form of oppression (see Brett, D2006, p.18 and E1983). Those who do not have full status in society come to believe the low opinion others have of them: Grimes’s fate is ultimately determined not simply by his isolation but by his capitulation to Borough opinion at the climax of Act 2 scene i, a much delayed, extremely powerful cadence on to B♭, the Borough’s own key. On striking his friend Ellen in response to her ‘We’ve failed!’, Grimes takes up the offstage church congregation’s ‘Amen’ in his ‘So be it’, proceeding to the long-awaited full cadence with ‘and God have mercy upon on me’ set to a motif that dominates the rest of the opera; the four triadic chords that define its limits and the angry brass canon it prompts both indicate that there can be no escape. Here, for Brett, Grimes internalizes society’s judgment of him and enters the self-destructive cycle that inevitably concludes with his suicide (for slightly different readings of the ‘prayer’, see Hindley, D1992, p.147; Rupprecht, D2002, p.52). The two terrifying manhunts, intensifying the sense of Grimes as victim, may have served as catharsis for Britten’s own fear of persecution on returning to England as homosexual and pacifist.

It was a challenge to get the audience to identify with Grimes and to locate the problem as one of society’s vicious treatment of difference. For some critics of the finished opera, Grimes is still a problematic object of sympathy, a figure of violence whose guilt is never entirely dispelled (thus making readings of him as a ‘homosexual hero’ potentially troubling; see Hepburn, E2005). Indeed, violence itself might be understood as a primary theme of the opera, as it questioned a society in which everyone is brutalized, not merely aggressor and victim. For Edmund Wilson, writing in 1945, ‘Peter Grimes is the whole of bombing, machine-gunning, mining, torpedoing, ambushing humanity, which talks about a guarantied standard of living yet does nothing but wreck its own works, degrade or pervert its own moral life and reduce itself to starvation’ (Brett, E1983, pp.159–62). The work also raised the issue of responsibility in the relation of individual and state in modern democracies, brought to the fore by the focus on the deviant as an ordinary working man. Thanks in part to its recognizable debts to operatic tradition (see Kerman, E1949, p.278), the opera met with success from the moment of its first performance at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, on 7 June 1945 ( see Opera ). It was quickly taken up by other companies in Europe and the USA, and in due course became one of the rare 20th-century operas to enter the repertory.

Britten’s actual return to England had been anticlimactic. Although the tribunal he faced, as a conscientious objector, called him up for non-combatant duties, he was allowed on appeal to go free. This was also true of Pears. Their giving recitals all over the country for CEMA probably counted in their favour, as did Britten’s continuing work for the BBC. Pears meanwhile branched out into opera and was taken into the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company; seeing him in this new context evidently persuaded Britten that he should take the part of Grimes, originally planned for a baritone. Through Pears, Britten met such people as Eric Crozier, the staff producer who was to direct Grimes , and Joan Cross, artistic director of Sadler’s Wells, which led to the company’s giving the first performance.

There was a lull in Britten’s flow of composition around this time, owing partly to a serious attack of measles for which he was in hospital and then off work in March and April 1943 . Several projects were abandoned, but during the months he was resting he composed, at Snape, the Serenade for tenor, horn and strings. In this work he invented his own kind of shadowed pastoralism, not the ideal England of the folksong composers but a place in which the worm finds the bud and a darker side of medieval experience is explored (in the Lyke Wake Dirge); the high ostinato that is also the strophic vocal line enabled a particularly fruitful orchestral dialogue to suggest deeper levels to this poem. The Serenade was followed by the Prelude and Fugue for strings, written for the tenth anniversary of the Boyd Neel Orchestra, with a part for each of the 18 players in the fugue. More important was a commission from a clerical visionary in the arts, Walter Hussey, which afforded Britten the opportunity to set lines from Jubilate Agno by the 18th-century poet Christopher Smart, who himself had a persecution complex. At the heart of Rejoice in the Lamb , framed by a Purcellian prelude and postlude and cheerful choruses and solos, lies a chilling choral recitative (‘For I am Under the Same Accusation’) rehearsing the theme of oppression that was to boil over in Peter Grimes , and a spiritual resolution (‘But he that was born of a Virgin shall deliver me’) that looks forward to the very different scenario of The Rape of Lucretia . The Serenade was dedicated to Edward Sackville-West, an elegant new gay admirer who had helped with the choice of poems. He was working on a radio version of The Odyssey called The Rescue (broadcast in November 1943 ) for which Britten wrote extensive incidental music. The year ended with a setting of The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard for a music festival organized by a British officer in a German prison camp. The delayed composition of Peter Grimes began in 1944 , which otherwise produced only a Festival Te Deum and two carols for Sackville-West’s BBC programme ‘A Poet’s Christmas’, one of them a setting of Auden’s ‘Shepherd’s Carol’.

The success of Peter Grimes led to a fresh outburst of compositional activity. The Holy Sonnets of John Donne , another cycle written for Pears, much of it during illness, is among Britten’s darkest works, couched in a severely modernist musical language incorporating what he had learnt from Purcell’s declamatory style and (in the last song) ground bass technique. He himself attributed its despairing and angry mood to a visit to the Bergen-Belsen camp where he and Yehudi Menuhin played for survivors during a ten-day tour of Germany in July 1945 immediately preceding composition. Purcell is also a presence in two other major non-operatic works: the third, final movement of the String Quartet no.2, entitled ‘Chacony’, is built on statements of a ground bass grouped in sets and separated by solo cadenzas for three of the instruments. The first movement is among Britten’s most radical experiments with sonata form, both in the enormously extended exposition and the condensed recapitulation, in which the three successive phrases of the first theme are superimposed. He wrote to Mary Behrend, who commissioned it, that ‘to my mind it is the greatest advance I have yet made’. The third work, a set of variations on a very good dance-tune by Purcell, came about as the result of a film commission from Basil Wright (now with the Crown Film Unit, the successor to the original GPO unit) for the Ministry of Education. The film, with a commentary (by Slater) spoken stiffly by Malcolm Sargent, is perhaps best appreciated as a historical document of mid-century arts education, but the clarity and directness of Britten’s score shines through in the concert version, entitled The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra .

A revolt within Sadler’s Wells (several singers refused to take part in a recording of Peter Grimes ) might have impeded further success in opera. But Britten had already begun planning, in summer 1945 , a season at Dartington with an independent company giving opera on a small scale. In the event, Crozier and Cross broke away from Sadler’s Wells, and Glyndebourne took over from Dartington in an attempt to revive its festival, which had been moribund for much of World War II. Crozier’s enthusiasm for a French troupe, La Compagnie des Quinze, provided a model for the new Glyndebourne English Opera Company and led to his translating one of their plays, André Obey’s Le viol de Lucrèce . Meanwhile, Britten had been in touch with the Rhodesian poet Ronald Duncan – they had collaborated over a Pacifist March in 1936–7 , he had helped Britten change Slater’s mad scene in Act 3 of Peter Grimes , and Britten was writing music for his play This Way to the Tomb in late 1945 . Duncan put aside his planned libretto on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and set to work on Obey’s play, preserving his narrators as Male and Female Chorus, to be sung by Pears and Cross. The result, The Rape of Lucretia , re-opened Glyndebourne, but it was not a complete success. Like This Way to the Tomb , Duncan’s libretto was essentially a religious verse drama of the type T.S. Eliot had made fashionable. From the beginning, critics responded negatively both to its convoluted language and to the didactic Christian frame added to the Roman story. But The Rape of Lucretia broke new operatic ground for Britten, displaying a distinctly Purcellian recitative style – complete with continuo-like piano accompaniment – that matches the Baroque quality of Duncan’s lines; its new-found intimacy and economy would continue to be explored in a series of champer operas. It also revealingly elaborates the themes of innocence, guilt and oppression explored in Grimes and other works of the 1940s. Like Grimes in some ways, Lucretia is a victim. Roman society is also portrayed as corrupt and oppressive, and she is raped by an Etruscan prince, Tarquinius, who embodies its worst features. For Brett, she is equally a victim of internalization, forced to create her own guilt out of the aggressor’s crime (see Brett, D2006, pp.62–8). But the status of her innocence and the shame that eventually drives her to suicide, as well as the role of Christian redemption, can also be seen as more ambiguous, even confused. Indeed, these all appear under negotiation in revisions of the libretto and music undertaken between the premiere and 1947. Is Lucretia purely innocent from beginning to end? Is she tainted, in a pernicious logic, by the act of rape itself? Or, as some critics have suggested, is she more properly a participant in her own undoing, tempted by Tarquinius (see Carpenter, 235)? In almost any interpretation, Lucretia stands problematically for feminine virtue, whether upheld or betrayed (see Seymour, 75–97; Harper-Scott, E2010). Nonetheless, the first of Britten’s operas conceived after World War II betrays a timely concern with the all-pervasiveness of guilt and violence. Particularly in its earliest versions, it can appear a statement of despair, in which only the Christian notion of redemption holds any promise, much as in the Donne Sonnets of late 1945.

In spite of a double cast of fine singers (one included as Lucretia the radiant Kathleen Ferrier in her operatic début), The Rape of Lucretia played to poor houses on tour after its Glyndebourne performance in July 1946 . Britten and his supporters now founded the English Opera Group, independent of Glyndebourne. After Duncan’s idea of a version of Mansfield Park was rejected, Crozier wrote a libretto for Albert Herring , moving Maupassant’s short story Le rosier de Madame Husson from the French provinces to an imaginary Suffolk town, ‘Loxford’. Among its weaknesses are pert caricatures of, and condescending attitude towards, provincial working-class people. But the Oedipal subject matter touched an English nerve: the point of Maupassant’s story lies in the subsequent ruin and degradation of the hero, not his mother-domination. One reason why the opera disturbs, why it can have the effect of Mozartian or Shakespearean tears behind laughter, is that it presents an intensified version of a complicated situation between mothers and sons. The sinister, obsessive nature of the music for Mrs Herring – one of the best of Britten’s many predatory women – and the true musical pathos of Albert, as well as his rising anger in the important aria in Act 1 scene iii, create a viable central comic situation, close enough to the truth to hurt.

It is also notable that Albert does not ‘become a man’. He becomes himself, in his own way, without having subscribed to society’s pattern of initiation: he returns without any trophy (the crumpled lost wreath thrown into the audience at the end might be seen as a suitable symbol of his virginity). What Albert does sing in dismissing his mother and the rest of those arrayed against him has been praised as a splendid new integration of ‘light music’ into Britten’s style, but could also be seen to revisit the pastiche of Paul Bunyan and the cabaret songs (see Chowrimootoo, E2011). Those whom he confronts and confounds on his return have just sung the Threnody, one of the most striking of Britten’s many vocal passacaglias, one that invokes Verdi more obviously than Purcell, and that earlier critics often felt overbalanced the work. It is easy to see why they might from purely burlesque productions (like Frederick Ashton’s original, from all accounts) without suggesting the sinister potential in characters like Lady Billows and Mrs Herring as well as their absurdity. It should also be noted that once again the physical plays an important part. Sid and Nancy’s sexual appetites, portrayed in music of extraordinary excitement and allure, are as powerful as their spiked lemonade (and the Wagnerian reference that accompanies it) in enabling Albert to find himself.

During the English Opera Group’s 1947 summer tour of Albert Herring and The Rape of Lucretia , Pears proposed the idea of an Aldeburgh Festival. It was in many ways a practical move, providing a base for the English Opera Group after its association with Glyndebourne broke down, and taking advantage of the Arts Council’s interest in funding cultural projects outside London (see Kildea, D2002, 148–53). The festival also had the advantage of institutionally personifying Britten and what he stood for when he and Pears were about to move into Crag House, in the centre of the town. Moreover, besides benefiting from Britten’s abilities as an accompanist of the highest rank, it offered a further outlet and focus for his other performing abilities (not to mention his astute grasp of finances). With Albert Herring , he had for the first time conducted one of his own operas. Apparently he never fully enjoyed the role, yet he won the devotion of almost every musician who performed under his direction and became a notable interpreter of other composers’ works. The London critics were pointedly not invited to the opening, and many of them suspected its potential for cliquishness and provinciality. At first, the Festival was a largely local affair, but as it became more established, Britten drew to Aldeburgh the foremost international musicians of the age, whether composers or performers, forming partnerships with them (such as his Schubert duet performances with Richter or his recitals with Rostropovich) in such a way as figuratively to invert the relation of country town to capital. The closeness of the Aldeburgh family (or clique) was often, and sometimes brutally, disturbed when members were suspected of giving less than their best. To have a literal family to whom to attach himself was always a prerequisite for Britten; having colleagues whom he trusted in a place that he knew was an extension of that. While the Aldeburgh family of the 1950s and 60s has been seen as increasingly tense, (Carpenter, 319–21, 368–70, 376–7, 520–29 and passim), its tensions also seem typical of a new and rapidly growing organization (Kildea, 166), an impression confirmed by its long-term success.

A trio of joyful works followed in 1947 , the first such outpouring since the lull before the composition of Peter Grimes ( 1946 had seen few short works: merely the Occasional Overture , commissioned to celebrate the opening of the BBC Third Programme and later withdrawn by Britten, and an organ work for St Matthew’s Church, the Prelude and Fugue on a Theme of Vittoria). The 17th-century cantata form exemplified in Purcell’s longer songs impressed Britten into adopting it for Canticle I, a setting of Francis Quarles’s poem ‘My beloved is mine’, inspired by passages from The Song of Solomon . In contrast to this serious and full-hearted work for his tenor, A Charm of Lullabies was a pleasant cycle written for a favourite mezzo-soprano, Nancy Evans, recently married to Eric Crozier. The third was a cantata for the opening of the first Aldeburgh Festival on 5 June 1948 , with an official première a few weeks later (24 July) to celebrate the centenary of Lancing College (Pears’s old school). Britten must have been by this time secure enough in his underlying convictions as a composer to ignore the undoubted disapproval of modernist taste for any endeavour involving a large number of amateur musicians. Apart from Peter Pears as the adult saint, Saint Nicolas required only a professional string quartet and percussionist, with a proficient organist and duo pianists. The school choir was supplemented at Lancing by parts for choirs of other linked schools, and the work included two hymns for the audience. This was not among Britten’s most adventurous or even most accomplished works, and would have appeared ludicrous to the postwar avant garde. But from the lilting A major-Lydian waltz to which the story of Nicolas’s birth and growth to adolescence is told to the broader issues of both involvement in Christian history and shared experience, it seems now as courageous and adventurous as the experimental music of the time. Forster, who had met and admired Britten and Pears, and was attending the first Aldeburgh Festival as lecturer, called it ‘one of those triumphs outside the rules of art’ ( The Listener , 24 June 1948 ) and reported with enormous enthusiasm about the entire festival.

Meanwhile, the English Opera Group needed new material to keep going, and Britten had promised a version of The Beggar’s Opera for their 1948 season, to be directed by Tyrone Guthrie (who had recently produced Peter Grimes at Covent Garden). Fortunately, Britten worked from an early edition of the original in which the tunes lack Pepusch’s bass lines. He could therefore abandon the constraints of the Purcell realizations and construct both harmony and orchestration; he even brought numbers together in interesting cumulative sequences. The project signifies the culmination of a process of selfconscious rapprochement with history and national identity, part of what Britten thought necessary, as a newly connected and ‘located’ artist, to fulfil his role. Today, the work seems over-elaborate, trading immediacy for musical invention: the music goes upscale, like the accents of the opera singers who generally take the roles, and compared with the Brecht-Weill Die Dreigroschenoper it sounds musically tame and lacking in bite. The drama is in line with the critique of society, religion, the law, family and social order that Britten’s works notably encompass. But the tone, as in Albert Herring , often veers towards cosiness in a way that undercuts the portrayal of brutality and mendaciousness that Britten would earlier have condemned more roundly in musical terms. The process is best understood with reference to Britten’s own ambivalent position as a ‘discreet homosexual’ (Alan Sinfield’s term), which encouraged both protest or subversion but also accommodation to the status quo. The particular consistency of that mix at any given time is a key to a deeper understanding of his career.

For the 1949 season, Crozier again worked on a project involving audience participation, the ‘entertainment for young people’ Let’s Make an Opera , which included four audience songs. The opera that formed the second half of the event was The Little Sweep , a scaled-down version of the oppression theme in which the middle-class audience can identify with the stage children, who help poor mistreated working-class Sam, the chimney-sweep, to freedom. This constituted genuine release and fulfilment for Britten even if Carpenter (p.176) is right to comment on its regressive psychology.

Britten was deliriously happy while writing the opera in spring 1949 ; less so with the project it interrupted, the Spring Symphony . He described his ‘doubts and miseries’ over it to Serge Koussevitzky, who commissioned it. The doubts must have been largely about projecting an orchestral song cycle as a symphony. He explained the symphony as ‘not only dealing with the Spring itself but with the progress of Winter to Spring and the reawakening of the earth and of life’, and its form as ‘in the traditional four-movement shape of a symphony, but with the movements divided into shorter sections bound together by a similar mood or point of view’ (Britten, 1949–50 , p.237); he saw no need to produce a traditional symphonic ‘argument’ but rather wanted to project a series of controlled gestures in four distinct parts, the second and third analogous to the slow movement and scherzo of a symphony, and with a single poem for the more extended, joyous finale. The separate settings have an effect comparable to the series of discrete numbers through which Britten had learnt in his operas to generate cumulative feeling and climactic structures. The first invocatory movement is in ritornello form, and a fairly strict thematics of instrumentation persists, suggesting Baroque ‘affects’ rather than Romantic arguments. In the finale, a celebratory episode complete with rude blasts on the cowhorn, things are kept in motion by a rousing waltz tune upon which is projected, in a climactic peroration, the famous Sumer is icumen in cast in duple time. The emotional centre of the work, however, lies in the final section of the second part, a setting of W.H. Auden’s Out on the Lawn . Britten would have known the significance of this poem (from which he selected four of the 16 stanzas) as a description of an actual spiritual experience of June 1933 which the poet called a ‘Vision of Agape’ and which prefigured his later conversion to Christianity. Britten’s setting, which incorporates some of his most distinctive orchestral and vocal effects, recalls for an anguished moment in its last stanza the mood of the more radical Our Hunting Fathers , again providing a reminder of the darker reality of life, a touch that balances and therefore validates the ‘retrogressive’ search for ‘innocent’ states of mind in other parts of the score.

In late 1949 Britten found time to write a wedding anthem, Amo ergo sum , for his friends Lord Harewood and Marion Stein on a text by Ronald Duncan, and in early 1950 a charming and classic set of choral songs, the Five Flower Songs , for the Elmhirsts of Dartington Hall.

5. Success and authority, 1951–5.

  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe
  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe

It was natural, in the light of Britten’s success as a composer, especially in opera and its performance, for the Arts Council to commission a major opera from him for the 1951 Festival of Britain. For his part, he must have realized that his first substantial work written specifically for Covent Garden ought also to break new ground. Billy Budd , besides representing a considerable musical advance, also marks a shift in Britten’s operatic output from themes of oppression to an exploration of authority and its ramifications, as the composer himself moved into the heart of the cultural ‘establishment’ (symbolized by his being created a Companion of Honour in 1953 ). At the same time, Britten’s earlier concerns with violence and innocence continue to be explored in Billy Budd and the following works.

Inviting a major literary figure like E.M. Forster to become his librettist was possibly to risk a recurrence of the difficulties with Auden, but Forster was a master of prose, not poetry, and the author of Howard’s End and A Passage to India held the promise of helping Britten move beyond his preoccupations with the innocent and the oppressed. After some discussion, the two settled unshakably on Melville’s Billy Budd (see P.N. Furbank, E.M. Forster: a Life , London, 1977–8 , ii, 283–6). In adapting the story, Forster wanted to ‘rescue Vere from Melville’ (that is, from the excessive respect for authority and discipline implicit in Melville’s account of him), to ‘make Billy, rather than Vere, the hero’, and to suggest redemption through love, or at least eternal hope, through the image of the ‘white sail’, mitigating and limiting Melville’s belief in Fate. But the Prelude–Epilogue frame in which the aging Vere recalls the action places the dramatic emphasis firmly on his moral choice and predicament. In this respect, one of Britten’s main achievements was to develop the ambiguity and uncertainty implicit in Vere’s actions and words through purely musical means. Notable is the way the stratified texture at the opening of the Prologue projects the conflict between B♭ and B♮, which then persists as a musical ‘problem’ reflecting what attracted Britten to the topic, ‘the quality of conflict in Vere’s mind’ (see Rupprecht, E1996). The famous ‘interview’ interlude in which, with triadic chords each harmonizing the notes F, A or C but contrasted by dynamics, orchestration and tessitura, Britten suggests the indeterminate nature of the private moment in which Vere tells Billy that he has been condemned has also been shown to promote an uneasy, unstable tonal dialectic expressing an essentially equivocal mental state rather than any firm triumph of F major (Whittall, E1990). Near the end of the Epilogue, Britten appears to dissolve and dispel the forces of both good and evil (the melody of Billy’s farewell, a reference to the interview chords, and the ominous brass motif associated with Claggart as evil) in a final, radiant B♭ chord. But that very epiphanic moment sets off once again the hefty drum-beat motif that underpins the trial and ultimately derives from the sea chase earlier in Act 2. The implication that Vere is hopelessly contaminated by his role in killing men – as leader in battle as well as naval disciplinarian – is powerful on the social as well as personal level. The advance of Billy Budd on Peter Grimes in both dramatic and musical terms is nowhere so telling as in this culminating moment, but is also readily apparent in almost every other aspect of the score.

The music of Billy Budd took over a year to write and months to score, leaving time only for two small-scale instrumental pieces written for individual soloists, Lachrymae , for viola (William Primrose) and piano, and Six Metamorphoses after Ovid , for oboe solo (Joy Boughton); the dedicatees played them at successive Aldeburgh festivals in 1950 and 1951 . In addition, there was the ‘realization’ of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas for the English Opera Group’s 1951 season. In the aftermath of Billy Budd Britten wrote the extraordinary Canticle II, on the Chester Miracle Play version of the story of Abraham and Isaac – a footnote to the theme of the opera, perhaps, but arresting in its own right for the opening, in which the alto and tenor voices combine to invoke the voice of God, punctuated by wide piano arpeggios reminiscent of the opening of the first quartet.

The death of George VI in 1952 catapulted Britten into another large-scale opera for Covent Garden. That year, Imogen Holst arrived at Aldeburgh as amanuensis and devoted disciple: her presence at festival concerts with Britten and Pears added status to Britten’s English lineage – her father’s work was also admitted into the local canon. Britten had been exploring various libretto ideas for some time with Forster’s friend, William Plomer, an able literary figure personally less demanding than the novelist, when Lord Harewood began negotiations that led to the commission of an opera on the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 . Elizabeth’s Tudor predecessor seemed the appropriate subject for what was intended as a quintessentially ‘national’ opera with a Verdian sweep about it. To base it on Lytton Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex , however, was to put the image of the Virgin Queen to as tough a test as Vere had undergone. Strachey’s portrait deploys Freudian psychology to underpin its iconoclastic view of Elizabeth I. Britten no doubt intended to create a portrait of monarchy, warts and all, in which a cultured homosexual man could believe: the brilliance of the celebratory style he devised (avoiding Elgarian imperialistic overtones) as well as the subtlety of his response to Elizabethan music in the songs and dances show that he was as inspired by this project as by the challenge of Billy Budd . Plomer had him read, as an antidote to Strachey, J.E. Neale’s biography. Elizabeth’s own speeches lie behind the debated Norwich episode that enshrines her ideal concept of authority rooted in humanity, intelligence and generosity, but Elizabeth also appears petty and grotesque at times, and the dark ending sees the aging, bald heroine musing on her mortality. Such elements disturbed the mood of celebration at the coronation gala at which the opera was first performed (at Britten’s insistence), prompting a minor scandal (see Banks, D1993; Malloy-Chirgwin, E1999). Gloriana touched a national nerve-ending at a moment of determined optimism (Wiebe, 112–32), and its uneasy mix of pageantry and drama proved troublesome both at the première and in later revivals. The high-profile opera also intensified the increasingly hostile response to Britten of the musical cognoscenti, disturbed by the cult status accorded him in the Mitchell and Keller Commentary of 1952 .

All the more remarkable, then, that the next opera, begun during the preparations for Gloriana , should directly explore child sexuality and homoeroticism through Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw . The horror of this gothic tale turns on the harrowing dilemma into which the reader is forced between experiencing the children, Miles and Flora, either as objects of depraved desires on the part of their dead servant and governess, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, or as the victims of the hysterical fantasies of their new Governess, whose instability is hinted at by her frustrated desire for their distant guardian. The topic was suggested to Britten by Myfanwy Piper, a member of his ‘extended family’ through her husband John, designer of most of the opera productions after Peter Grimes . In her Britten found an ideal librettist for the adaptation of literary works; her work is seen at its best in the verbal images she produced for James’s silent Quint, suggesting the man’s imaginative allure to a child rather than any ‘evil’. Making the ghosts palpable militated against James; but Britten, aided by Piper, found other ways to reinforce the ambiguities and claustrophobic atmosphere, such as the division into short scenes separated by ‘variation’ interludes and a tonal scheme that mirrors the title. The theme of these variations is moreover the upbeat opening gesture of a bipartite theme, its first element comprising all 12 notes through which, at its second plain statement, the ghosts voice their power. The ‘downbeat’ second element – ingeniously derived by inversion from the original series (Evans, D1979, p.214) – quickly evaporates into the coach-ride of the opening interlude, but emerges climatically at the beginning of Act 2 as the music for the ghosts’ inspired quotation from Yeats’s The Second Coming , ‘the ceremony of innocence is drowned’. Throughout the opera, it provides the thematic material from which significant statements of both the Governess and Quint are derived. No more powerful or appropriate musical way could be found to match the dilemma of the original story. Critical approaches, which differ widely, reflect the success of this and other ambivalent musical symbols (such as the orchestration). One feature of the opera is the development of Miles, Britten’s first extended role for boy treble. It was hauntingly sung in the first production (and Britten’s recording) by the young David Hemmings, whom the composer fell for. The evocative mnemonic rhyme, ‘Malo’, set by Britten to curiously self-revolving, abject music, managed acutely to symbolize the sexually active, precocious and yet guilty child and provide a focus for the Governess’s final lament while undercutting her drive to resolution. The Turn of the Screw is arguably Britten’s aesthetically and musically most satisfying work in the genre as well as the richest in dramatic tension and personal allusion.

The composition of three operas in so short a time had left little time for other music. Between Gloriana and The Turn of the Screw , however, Britten wrote one of his most important song cycles, Winter Words , on lyrics and ballads of Thomas Hardy. A nostalgic mood is set by the first song, with its evocation of November twilight in the fused dominant and tonic chords resolving on to D (minor). It is captured differently in the cantata-like account of The Choirmaster’s Burial , with its miraculous setting of an old hymn tune and evocation of honest country musicianship. And finally, in Before Life and After , accompanied by low-lying triads in the left hand that conflict increasingly with the voice and piano right-hand’s lyrical dialogue, the lost world of nescience is hymned as the final D major is reached – though the conflict has been intense enough to disturb any notion of soothing resolution or fulfilment of any such goal.

What came after The Turn of the Screw was directly affected by its schematic design. The vocal stanzas of Canticle III, Still Falls the Rain , completed in November 1954 , interact with the interspersed variations for horn and piano in a manner recognizable from the scenes and interludes in the opera. An allegory of Christ’s passion linked by the poet, Edith Sitwell, to the air raids of 1940 , it was an opportunity for the composer to test again the possibility of Christian salvation on a conclusive B♭, this time purging the almost serial-style chromaticism of the opening in expressive two-part counterpoint, and finally resolving onto a vocal monotone both the airiness of the refrain (‘Still falls the rain’) and the recitative-like stanzas (one of them with a Sprechstimme interjection, unusual in Britten, to mark the quotation from Marlowe’s Dr Faustus in the poem).

6. Transition and triumph, 1955–62.

  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe
  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe

Having concluded a series of operas that offer as solid a claim to the attention of operagoers as any other 20th-century works, Britten must have been dimly aware of a need to fill in gaps in his total output as well as to try out new things – he wrote to Edith Sitwell that ‘I am on the threshold of a new musical world (for me, I am not pretentious about it!)’ (Cooke, D1999, p.167). For the moment, however, exhaustion set in, and the composition of a major work, the full-length ballet The Prince of the Pagodas , a project with the choreographer John Cranko for Covent Garden, was set aside for an extensive tour with Pears from November 1955 to March 1956 , much of it in Asia (where they had as travelling companions their friends Prince Ludwig and Princess Margaret of Hesse and the Rhine). They appear to have sought out indigenous, traditional dance, music and drama, such as that of Japan (to bear fruit in the church parables). In Indonesia, first Java and then, during a free two-week period, Bali, Britten made a more detailed study of local musical styles. The brassy, brilliant sound of the Balinese gamelan was predictably more arresting to him than the less demonstrative Javanese. From Ubud, where he heard the Peliatan gamelan, he wrote to Imogen Holst extolling the music as ‘ fantastically rich – melodically, rhythmically, texture (such orchestration !!) &above all formally . … At last I’m beginning to catch on to the technique, but it’s about as complicated as Schönberg’ (Cooke, D1998, p.70).

Gamelan music was not new to him; he had been introduced to it in America by Colin McPhee, who spent much of the 1930s in Bali, becoming an authority on its music, which he incorporated into his own works. The sonorities received confirmation from a European source when Britten played Poulenc’s Concerto for two pianos with its composer early in 1945 – the work contains substantial ‘gamelan’ passages in its mixture of styles (Brett, D2006, p.134). Furthermore, although McPhee’s comments indicate Britten’s initial ambivalence, he soon latched on, using a heterophonic pseudo-gamelan sound to characterize the moon turning blue in Paul Bunyan and deriving the deep bell sounds in the ‘Sunday Morning’ interlude in Peter Grimes from the representation of the gong in McPhee’s two-piano transcriptions of Balinese Ceremonial Music . Heterophonic passages and pentatonic scales can be traced in many Britten contexts (Cooke, D1998), but it was in The Turn of the Screw (see Palmer, in Howard, E1985) that gamelan-like sounds seeped into the colour of Britten’s instrumentation to suggest not simply the ghosts but also Quint’s allure for Miles and the attendant danger.

The visit to Bali provided the material (in the form of sketches and recordings) for a more literal reference to the gamelan in The Prince of the Pagodas (which opened on New Year’s Day 1957 ), although the idea of employing such music may have occurred earlier in 1955 as the result of another performance of the Poulenc concerto. There is a corresponding shift of dramatic emphasis. Cranko’s scenario is a Lear-inflected fairy tale. On being passed over in favour of her haughty sister by their foolish father, the emperor, the beautiful princess Belle Rose is carried off to Pagoda Land, where, to gamelan music, the pagodas revolve or swell at her touch, offering her food and finally blindfolding her. To another gamelan piece a green salamander enters who turns into a handsome prince as the trumpet plays a melody of Siegfried-like heroism and phallic intensity. Since the princess is blindfolded, and the gamelan music is attached to the pagodas (their captives are ultimately liberated) as well as to the disguised prince, sexuality, if suggested at all, is literally polymorphous. These are latent beings, waiting for the liberation that Rose’s love will effect, but surely connected through their music to a vision that is either utopian or regressive: innocence or nescience, pre-verbal, even pre-visual, depending only on touch. The score, shot through with echoes of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Stravinsky, gloriously opulent and uninhibited, might serve as a model of Britten’s orchestral brilliance. Like the gamelan references in The Turn of the Screw , they belong to the phenomenon of ‘orientalism’, that is, Western projections onto peoples thereby made Other.

Britten was to travel further in that direction: during spring 1956 Britten had asked Plomer to supply a libretto derived from the play Sumidagawa that had so impressed the composer in Japan (Alexander, E1988, p.235). Its gestation took some time. Meanwhile, because of increasingly burdensome public exposure, Britten and Pears moved out of Crag House, which they exchanged in November 1957 for the Red House with the artist Mary Potter (a member of their recorder group, for whom Alpine Suite was written in 1955 ). Near a golf course on the road to Leiston, it now houses the Britten-Pears Library. Britten was working at the time on Songs from the Chinese , settings of translations by Arthur Waley for Pears to sing to the accompaniment of Julian Bream. Although the texts, which are largely about the transient nature of beauty and youth, provide a basis for exoticism, Britten avoids it in favour of a musical language that not only exploits the guitar’s capabilities but also suggests the spare, thematically orientated manner that was to occupy him after 1961 .

Meanwhile, the next large work, begun in late 1957 and given at the 1958 Aldeburgh Festival, claims a special place in Britten’s output. Begun as the result of a television commission that failed to materialize, Noye’s Fludde became the centrepiece of Britten’s investment in what has eventually become known as ‘outreach’, for it involves children of all ages in its performance and includes the audience who join in the hymns around which it is built. Brilliantly managed is the physical involvement of the children, as violinists in first position, buglers playing simple school-derived fanfares, recorder players galore, a variety of percussionists (including the innovation of the ‘slung mugs’ signifying the first raindrops) and as a chorus of child-animals with cries of ‘Kyrie eleison’ and ‘Alleluia’: everyone can be included along with the few professionals, Britten appears to be saying, in a score that is uncompromisingly interesting on all levels and therefore with no patronizing air. As if to reinforce the point, the storm is an extended passacaglia on a theme, like that of The Turn of the Screw , both tonally anchored and comprising all 12 notes: this ambivalent device is not surprisingly attached to the destruction and abjection caused by the deity. Towards the end a handbell choir, slightly reminiscent of Balinese metallophones, epitomizes the rainbow, an image that melts into that of a newly recovered universe signified by Tallis’s canon, which is disturbed briefly by an organ interlude that has not unreasonably been interpreted as a moment of residual hostility to the church as an institution. The impression most listener-participants carry away from this freshly conceived music-theatre event, however, is one of great spiritual and musical satisfaction.

If the Serenade can be seen as preparatory to Peter Grimes , the Nocturne of August–September 1958 is even more closely linked with A Midsummer Night’s Dream , completed in 1960 . In place of the Serenade ’s virtuoso painting of atmosphere, the Nocturne explores the dreaming state of mind to be conjured up so powerfully in the opera. The cycle is continuous – here the poems tend to be fragments of larger works rather than discrete lyrics – and it is held together by a gossamer thread of recall, the soft breathing motif of the opening string accompaniment and the rapturous melisma set to ‘nurslings of immortality’ in the opening song. This latter motif not only signifies the poetic vision but points to the eventual outcome of the work on a D♭ chord. Dream-like, too, is the way the piece keeps aspiring to a blissful, clear C major (as in the Keats poem at the mention of ‘Sleep’) while continually being forced into stranger worlds of experience symbolized on the one hand by the obbligato instruments that join the basic string accompaniment (and in the Keats setting take over from it) and on the other by the constant flux of the harmony which explores areas scarcely imagined in the Serenade . The cycle closes with a Shakespeare setting in which the dichotomy of the self and the loved one is mirrored by the flux between and eventual fusion of the worlds of C and D♭ that have inhabited the earlier songs. The orchestration, reminiscent of Mahler (to whose widow Britten dedicated the work as if to acknowledge the earlier composer’s influence), signals the seriousness and passionate nature of this dialogue of the soul, an exploration in miniature of the predicaments that were to extract such a rich response from Britten in his opera.

The same summer saw the completion (as a 50th birthday offering to Prince Ludwig, who drew Britten’s attention to the poems) of Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente , which take up again the themes of the Songs from the Chinese in a fairly severe lieder-like style. At the heart of the cycle lies a radiant answer to the unbelieving questioner of the nature of Socrates’ love for Alcibiades in which the singer takes up the chromatic piano melody now ‘naturalized’ by the plain triads of the accompaniment. The concluding two songs, however, return to the autumnal atmosphere of the earlier cycle. The rigorous motivic and canonic workings of these songs prepare for the heterophonic yet tonally centred procedures of the final decade. A more jesting ‘academic’ approach to Schoenbergian procedures is to be found in the subsequent Cantata Academica , written in 1959 for the quincentenary of Basle University. With its ‘Tema seriale con fuga’ and other academic trappings lightly worn, a ponderous Latin text, and fairly unbuttoned manner (occasionally recalling Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex quite strongly), it is an occasional piece well calculated for the average university music group. A more spectacular piece of the same year, the Missa brevis , was written for George Malcolm and the boys of Westminster Cathedral Choir, and well calculated for the notably reedy tone of that group compared to the more usual white-toned English boys’ choir. In the Sanctus the boys magically project 12-note collections over D major triads in the organ to exciting effect, but Britten follows Bach in making the Agnus Dei a moment of personal tension that disturbs the otherwise lofty atmosphere of this tiny masterpiece.

A culminating work for the operatic stage of this period is A Midsummer Night’s Dream , written to celebrate the enlargement of the Jubilee Hall at Aldeburgh. The idea occurred barely a year ahead of the first performance (in the 1960 festival), and Britten and Pears together cut and rearranged Shakespeare’s play as a libretto. Britten ( The Observer , 5 June 1960 ) said that the play appealed to him as the work of a very young man and as a story that involved three distinct groups, the Lovers, the Rustics (as he called the mechanicals) and the Fairies, which interact. More likely, after exploring the ambiguity of relationships in a realistic setting in Billy Budd and the fantasy of the unthinkable in the context of James’s ghost story, he found in this play, which literary critics were just beginning to read as saturnalian rather than romantic, an ideal vehicle for pursuing his interests in the difficulties and dangers in human relationships. A crucial difference from Shakespeare occurs as the curtain rises: it is plain from the heavy breathing in the orchestra that we are already, in more senses than one, in the woods. Britten dispenses with the social context of Athens and the background of reality as an initiating device in favour of the darker world of the Nocturne , and moves here the furthest distance from the realistic borough of Peter Grimes into a private world, one of possibilities rather than limitations. The folk-festival or May-games aspect of Shakespeare’s play, then, is matched by a contemporary notion of misrule, the world of the libido.

As if to reinforce the unreality, operatic convention itself is part of the subject, most obviously in the broad comedy of the mechanicals’ play, a wicked send-up of 19th-century styles (Albright, E2007, pp.290–95). The chorus that opens the opera is one of unbroken boys’ voices singing one of Britten’s spiky unison tunes, as different from the romantic notion of fairies (and opera choruses) as could be imagined. On cue comes the expected entry of the prima donna and male lead, but in this case he is far from the ardent tenor of the Romantic era and as close as one can get to the primo uomo of 18th-century opera seria , the castrato. Along with the historical reference goes the association of unmanliness, and thus of gender liminality, that haunts the modern image of the homosexual, and the impression is enhanced by the Baroque style of his set pieces and the pseudo-gamelan sounds that attend his magic herb. A distant relation of Quint, he already has his Miles in Puck, not the hero’s baritone friend of grand opera but a lithe tumbler with an adolescent voice who speaks rather than sings. The lovers sing lines that are eternally syllabic, in even notes, a sure sign in Britten’s musical language that, though conventionally ‘good’, they are limited; their litany-like set piece after waking from their dream fails to separate their personalities, so that what is often seen as Shakespeare’s own gloomy prognosis for love and marriage in patriarchal society finds an echo in Britten’s pessimism. The only really tender relationship, and the only one that crosses social boundaries, is between the bewitched Tytania and the grotesque Bottom: the latter even usurps Oberon’s falsetto voice in recalling it. But Bottom ends up back with his pals, and Tytania’s radiant coloratura is silenced. The one truly romantic moment, as we might guess, is a regressive (and irresistible) transformation at the end of Act 2: Puck’s ‘Jack shall have Jill / Naught shall go ill’ rhyme, sung by the fairy boys in 3rds against the ‘motto’ chords in a lush D♭ major context that bleeds Shakespeare’s verse of every drop of its irony.

In summer 1960 Britten revised Billy Budd , compressing its four acts into two. In September an invitation to a Shostakovich première led to his meeting the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who highly admired him, and with whom he immediately struck up a rich musical friendship and partnership (engagingly described by Carpenter, especially 397–404). This quickly led to a reawakening of abstract instrumental composition, abandoned since 1951 but for a few pieces for the Aldeburgh recorder group, a variation on Sellenger’s Round for a composite coronation-year composition and a Fanfare for a pageant at Bury St Edmunds ( 1959 ). Too much has often been made of this ‘lapse’; Britten had no need of the ideology that demanded mastery in absolute instrumental forms. His adopting the Vaughan Williams model of national pre-eminence ruled out direct competition in symphonic music but not writing for outstanding, friendly and admiring performers – the impetus behind the ebullient Sonata in C for cello and piano, as it was behind the solo works of a decade earlier. 1961 and 1962 were otherwise dedicated to choral music, where it was necessary to stake a claim. A Hymn of St Columba ( 1962 ) is a slightly dark piece emanating from a bizarre anniversary, while Psalm 150 is the simplest of school songs written the same year for South Lodge (now renamed Old Buckenham Hall).

Britten’s crowning choral work, and for some possibly the pinnacle of his entire output, is the War Requiem , begun in the second half of 1961 as the result of a 1958 commission for the festival marking the consecration of the new cathedral at Coventry ( see England ). Arguably, Britten became a victim of his own success, drowning his authentic ‘private voice’ as a result of inscribing himself into the English oratorio tradition with a grandiloquent work for soloists, massed choral forces and orchestra (see Kennedy, C1981, p.213). An ingenious medievalism was evoked by troping the Latin text with a vernacular commentary (see Rupprecht, D2002, pp.191–7). The historical resonance, combined with an evocation of the sublime in the form of a bombed cathedral in Britain’s industrial midlands and of the metaphysical in the notion of reconciliation beyond the grave, gave the piece a portentous and grandiose character which seems oddly more of the age of Elgar than that of post-World War II. Some listeners have wondered whether the evocation of the end of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius in the concluding chorus is sufficiently undermined by the interruptions of boys and bells sounding the ominous augmented 4th that underpins the work. In terms of politics, too, questions have arisen about the application of a World War I pacifist message in a post-World War II context, as though the holocaust were not a factor to be reckoned with, as well as the silence on the topic of nuclear disarmament so germane to the early 1960s. The integrity of Britten’s homosexual politics explains a great deal here, particularly the use of fellow pacifist and homosexual Wilfred Owen’s poetry to transmit his anger about the fate of young men sent to their deaths by an unfeeling patriarchal system as well as his critique of empty religious forms in collusion with that system; possibly a metaphorical extension can be made to all innocent victims. Lloyd Whitesell has argued, further, that the work’s intimate encounters between men display ‘the ethical force of the queer perspective’ (Whitesell, D2003, pp.662–4). The choice of a major establishment genre in which to couch the powerful message of pacifism might be explained as part of a strategy, perhaps unconscious, to gain acceptance for the artist while maintaining the subversion of his message. ‘All a poet can do is warn’ (in the words of Owen); but if the medium overwhelms the message, the warning loses urgency, irony is overwhelmed, and reception tends to become complacent. On the other hand, the work can be seen as a reflection on just this problem, and on the problem more generally of public art, shared rituals and memorials in the late 20th century (see Rupprecht, 190; Wiebe, 196–8).

A return to the more typical and more modest occasional style of Britten’s choral music came a year later in Cantata misericordium , commissioned for the centenary of the International Red Cross. The string quartet component, the bass-tenor duo (Pears and Fischer-Dieskau in the early performances and recording) and the Latin text recall the grander work. But the scale is more suited to the swift telling of the simple and relevant tale of the Good Samaritan. A mixture of harp and piano brilliantly characterizes the spine-chilling anxiety of the baritone Traveller before he is attacked, and the subsequent focus on the Samaritan (the priest and Levite are chorally described rather than vocally personified) is dramatically apt for the moral (‘you now know who your neighbour is: go and do likewise’) without the point being laboured.

7. Further travels, 1963–9.

  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe
  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe

Britten’s 50th birthday year was marked by a number of events, including a visit to Moscow, a book of tributes from friends (Gishford, C 1963 ), a Prom concert ( 12 September 1963 ) at which he conducted the Sinfonia da Requiem , the Spring Symphony and the first performance in Britain of Cantata misericordium , and on the birthday itself a concert performance of Gloriana . In a public tribute Hans Keller proclaimed him ‘the greatest composer alive’, greater even than Stravinsky ( Music and Musicians , xii/3, 1963–4 , p.13). There was another side to this institutionalization. Musical taste in Britain was now shifting owing to radical changes by the new BBC Controller of Music, William Glock, and a new generation of composers such as Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle and Cornelius Cardew. The general audience was as usual accepting of merely a few pieces that had crept into the repertory, a situation exacerbated rather than relieved by the success of the War Requiem . Having worked to gain the position that Vaughan Williams had held, Britten was made doubly insecure by the isolation of preeminence. Accordingly he set out on new paths somewhat unheralded.

First came a return to the grand, purely orchestral statement not heard from him since Sinfonia da Requiem . The Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, completed early in May 1963 , was part of the series of works for Rostropovich. Referred to by its composer during composition as a sinfonia concertante, it proceeds, in spite of the opening dark flourishes that appear to herald a conventional concerto arrangement, as a discourse between equal forces, the soloist democratically exchanging roles with the orchestral basses at the recapitulation of the extensive and regularly proportioned sonata-form first movement. The dark, furtive-sounding Scherzo is followed by an Adagio that connects to the last movement and is strongly related to it. The year closed with a more intimate instrumental work, Nocturnal after John Dowland , for Julian Bream, whose interpretations of Dowland songs with Pears had become justly celebrated. Writing for the virtuoso guitar rather than the accompanimental lute, and adopting the strategy of the earlier Lachrymae , Britten allows the theme, the song Come, heavy sleep , to emerge in Dowland’s own accompaniment only after eight insomniac variations (the last a ground-bass treatment of a detail from Dowland’s accompaniment) have succeeded each other without ever achieving the final repetition of the second strain, whose curtailed presentation lends a witty and moving air to the conclusion.

Meanwhile, there was the long-postponed Sumidagawa to face. For the purpose, Britten, Pears and entourage (Graham as stage director and Holst as amanuensis) took an unusual six-week working vacation in Venice. The conception belonged to the visit to Japan eight years earlier, when Plomer had recommended that Britten see all forms of Japanese theatre, but particularly the . Although his initial reaction was of embarrassed amusement at the stylized acting, he soon became entranced by the story of a distraught mother searching for her lost child, went to see it again, and procured a translation of the Sumidagawa of the early 15th-century dramatist Jūrō Motomasa. He later visited the kabuki theatre, enjoyed shamisen songs at a geisha evening and heard the gagaku orchestra whose sounds were to reverberate in Curlew River . The principal characteristic of limiting expressivity in acting and presentation in search of a more profound underlying truth that springs from its stylization resonated with Britten’s own training, and its all-male cast appealed to a gender identification intensified by upbringing and sexual orientation. Plomer and Britten initially planned an operatic translation of the original, presumably with musical imitation (‘oh, to find some equivalent to those extraordinary noises the Japanese musicians made!’: Cooke, D1998, p.141). In April 1959 , however, came a change of heart: not a pastiche (‘which, however well done, would seem false and thin’) but a medieval church drama set in pre-conquest East Anglia. It was to be a Christian work, with ‘Kyrie eleison’ replacing ‘Amida Buddha’: in 1963 Britten finally identified himself as ‘a dedicated Christian’ (see Carpenter, 421)

In Curlew River Britten made a radical attempt to return Western music to its melodic origins (before the disease of harmony germed, as it were). A plainchant hymn, Te lucis ante terminum , provides the melodic fount (and, typically, the outer frame), its intervals extended to include the augmented 4th for the cry of the curlew and of the protesting Madwoman. The resonant acoustic of the church setting works with the plainchant-inspired lines, already blurred by the heterophonic technique, emphasized here to a new degree, to create a new kind of ‘harmony’ more like the bright but kaleidoscopic hues of stained glass, with similar iridescence. Characterization is by single instrumental colours – the Ferryman his active horn, the Traveller a double-stopped double bass, the Madwoman a flute, imitating her extraordinary vocal line with its heavy portamento. The organ (imitating the shō ) pours cold water on the ensemble; the harp injects its prismatic detail; and the percussion suggests otherness, whether exotic or historical. A disciplined ensemble of actor-singers and instrumentalists in monks’ habits – three of them assuming the masks of the main characters in a ritual robing – performs, without conductor, from a score with special notational features to promote synchronization. The audience is mesmerized by an hour’s-worth of radical renovation which opens out into time unaccounted for or differently measured. It is a ‘parable’ about various Christian themes – charity, the afterlife – but the focus is on the visionary Madwoman, one of Britten’s few really sympathetic portrayals of women, sung by Pears in the original.

1964 was marked by other innovations in Britten’s life. He parted company with his longtime publishers, Boosey &Hawkes; the literary publishers Faber &Faber founded Faber Music for him, with Donald Mitchell its head. Rosamund Strode entered the Aldeburgh household as Britten’s music assistant, replacing her friend and mentor Imogen Holst (who continued to be involved with the festival). In July Britten flew to Colorado to receive the first Aspen Award for an outstanding contribution to ‘the advancement of the humanities’. In his acceptance speech, later published, he encapsulated his views about the relation of the composer to society, and about his own needs. ‘I want my music to be of use to people, to please them … my music now has its roots, in where I live and work. And I only came to realise that in California in 1941 ’ (Britten, 2003, p. 262). Later in the year, Britten reported to Plomer that his doctors had ordered rest, and that he and Pears would take 1965 off, beginning with a lengthy trip to India with the Hesses. He nevertheless composed the first of the three cello suites before the New Year (having earlier written cadenzas to Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C for Rostropovich). Soon after his return from India, in March, he was awarded the Order of Merit (in place of T.S. Eliot who had recently died); this was the highest possible British honour (Vaughan Williams was the last musician to belong among the 24 most eminent living citizens personally appointed by the queen).

Composition continued in the ‘sabbatical’ year. The Indian holiday saw the completion of Gemini Variations , 12 variations and a fugue on a theme by Kodály written for Hungarian prodigy twins, Zoltán and Gabriel Jeney, who between them covered the flute, violin and piano and could accordingly change instruments between variations and during the final fugue. The following month produced a work in complete contrast – the bleak Songs and Proverbs of William Blake , inspired by Fischer-Dieskau’s darkly coloured voice and extraordinary musicianship as well as Britten’s most personal concerns. The cycle, a continuous one, interleaves a ritornello-like setting of the seven proverbs with seven songs that paint an increasingly sombre picture of human existence. Musically, the construction depends on a 12-note series arranged in three four-note segments, and only achieved as a melodic statement by the voice in Proverb VII to suitable words: ‘To see the World in a grain of sand’. Most remarkable is the powerful setting of Blake’s insight into the processing of anger, A Poison Tree . Britten, who must surely have known the truth of Blake’s words while spectacularly failing to act on them, at least in the Aldeburgh situation, uses a 12-note vocal melody closely related to the original set. It comes readily enough round to a cadence on E♭ minor on its return to the first note in the initial ‘healthy’ statement (‘I told my wrath, my wrath did end’), but then develops, with the help of inversion in the bass line (symbolizing the internalization process), into a terrifyingly effective and highly dissonant contrapuntal build-up ending in the hollow chordal triumph (over the inevitable E♭ pedal) of the death of the foe. There is no mild consolation of the kind offered in Winter Words in the prospect of, or longing for, nescience. The all-too-knowing subject is revealed in full frailty – a portrait (from a composer so often connected merely with ‘innocence’) all the more remarkable for its unblinking honesty and bleak integrity.

At another point in the ‘sabbatical’, Britten was tempted by a commission into writing a didactic work celebrating the 20th anniversary of the United Nations – it was performed in New York, Paris and London on the very day, 24 October 1965 . Voices for Today is an unaccompanied choral work (with ad libitum organ part) for large mixed chorus with a smaller chorus of boys, or boys and girls. It begins sententiously though quietly with an anthology of positive thoughts from the world’s great thinkers and poets – all of them noticeably male – before opening out into a setting of Virgil’s fourth Eclogue. Shorn of its pagan specifics this becomes an address to a Christ-like boy figure, the harbinger of a new pastoral life of plenty and peace. So much high-mindedness somehow dampened the musical response. A more robust expression of Britten’s musical character comes out in the Pushkin cycle, The Poet’s Echo , written for the excitingly dramatic voice of Galina Vishnevskaya and first performed by her on 2 December 1965 with Rostropovich accompanying.

Britten had written to Plomer about an idea for ‘another opera in the same style’ less than a month after Curlew River’s first performance. The Burning Fiery Furnace predictably replaced Japanese sources with story from the book of Daniel . Three young Israelites, Ananias, Misael and Azarias, attempt to deal with the favours and demands of Nebuchadnezzar and the jealousy of his astrologer and people. A crisis around naming (the trio are forced to accept the Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) makes this a parable of identity and difference. The luxury of Babylon, indicated by the dancing boys’ ‘cabaret’ as well as the increased opulence of the scoring, can be understood as a reflection of the ‘never-had-it-so-good’ Britain of the Macmillan era and its anti-Semitism related to the growing anti-immigrant racism of the time. The identity politics may obliquely refer to the ‘coming out’ process for the homosexual (Hindley, E1992), but it is quite likely that Britten himself supported the literal Christian parable of faith. He devised a charmingly literal pun by emphasizing the interval of the 4th to mirror the appearance of the fourth figure in the furnace, the Angel (many such felicities are detailed by Evans, C 1979 , pp.480–89). The score is a little slow to get off the ground but reaches a cold and sinister brilliance with the march and hymn in praise of the heathen idol, answered by the four cool voices from the furnace. The extra brass and percussion, with more extrovert musical gestures (the alto trombone’s brazen portamentos), effect the move to the Middle East from the Far East of the dramatic form, a collapsing of distinctions characteristic of orientalism.

Two fairly slight works intervened before the third and final church parable. The Golden Vanity , a ‘vaudeville’ with a libretto by Colin Graham, the dedicated stage director of the church operas, takes a folksong (one Vaughan Williams himself had set) as the basis for what has been described as a children’s Billy Budd owing to the relation between the perfidious sea captain and his gallant cabin boy. It was written (in August 1966 ) for the Vienna Boys’ Choir, who performed it at the 1967 Aldeburgh Festival. Hankin Booby is a salty little folk dance for wind and drums, originally written for the opening concert of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, and later incorporated into the Suite on English Folk Tunes. But a concert hall closer to home occupied much energy during this period. The Maltings at Snape had been discovered by Stephen Reiss, manager of the festival, as an available space to improve on the now-outgrown Aldeburgh facilities. The way Britten threw himself into this project, cajoling and demanding by turns, shows not only how much he wanted to be able to mount his larger works, both instrumental and operatic, at the festival but also how very seriously he took himself and his position in British culture by this time (Carpenter, 454–8, 468–70, 472–5). The Maltings concert hall was opened on 2 June 1967 by the Queen, and the initial concert included Britten’s arrangement of the national anthem and his specially composed overture, The Building of the House , with its (optional) choral setting of the Elizabethan metrical version of Psalm cxxvii, ‘Except the Lord the house doth make’. The Cello Suite no.2 occupied Britten during the summer.

The Prodigal Son is the least immediately appealing of the church parable triptych, but inside its purposely reticent interior is a significant return to the issues of patriarchy and authority. By assigning the viola to the title figure, moreover, the composer indicated his personal identification. A warm baritone Father, lyrically extolling the virtues of husbandry with Britten’s favourite alto flute as accompaniment, signals a reconciliation with the patriarchy that is as unexpected dramatically as the rooted B♭ triads are musically unusual in the melodically orientated music of the church parables. But an interpretation at one level leads to a contradiction at the next. The frame is broken by the Abbot’s being in mufti and notably failing to present his religious credentials (‘you people … do not think I bid you kneel and pray’); he is a home wrecker (‘see how I break it up’) who insinuates himself as the alter ego of the younger son. The similarity with Quint has often been noted. The temptations (of wine, the flesh and gambling) are cleverly presented by a distant boys’ choir – Britten’s own idea – so that the Tempter can mediate them in extraordinary Sprechstimme with glissando harmonics on the double bass. That these temptations are not too musically alluring should not be surprising: Britten’s idea of sin can never have involved bars, bath-houses, casinos or other material delights. No wonder they are overshadowed by the accelerating march home, in which the various instrumental strands suggest the coming together of a fragmented existence, ending in the radiant B♭ of the father’s acceptance. But the listener is also left to wonder if those B♭ chords are not too restricting and binding, as alien as the Tempter himself. Auden’s warning to Britten about the dangers of building a warm nest of love for himself seems appropriate to invoke.

On returning in February 1968 from Venice, where much of the opera was completed, Britten contracted infective endocarditis, which postponed its completion until April. The Maltings enabled the festival to be extended, and after the summer performances Britten settled down to recording projects there, including Schubert songs with Pears, the Brandenburg concertos, English string music and two LPs of Percy Grainger, culminating in early 1969 with a televised Peter Grimes . During the same period he wrote Children’s Crusade for the 50th anniversary of the Save the Children Fund. The down-to-earth style and impersonal tone of Brecht’s Kinderkreuzzug , a ballad about the death of a wandering band of children in the war-torn Poland of 1939 , allowed Britten’s anger to surface. The manipulations of a 12-note row appear to symbolize, here as elsewhere, the dying civilization of Europe, reflected through the fate of the children and their dog, whose death ends ‘a very grisly piece’ (as Britten himself called it) on an unsentimental note. This was shortly succeeded by one of the grimmest of the song cycles, Who are these Children? . The 12 songs are settings of ‘lyrics, rhymes and riddles’ by William Soutar ( 1898–1943 ), the caustic Scottish invalid poet. The riddles and rhymes in Scottish dialect, portraying the relatively carefree life of the ‘natural’ boy, as it were, are interleaved with settings of English poems depicting the cruelty of modern civilization in terms of irony and sheer pain. Commentators have invoked the Donne Sonnets to characterize the relentless accompanimental figuration of Slaughter ; the background to the title song is a 1941 photograph of children in a bombed village staring uncomprehendingly at a fox-hunting party riding through; and the actual pitches of the wartime air-raid siren are used as an ostinato in The Children , a poem written in response to bombing in the Spanish Civil War (Johnson, in Palmer, D1984, p.305). The last song, to a dialect poem about the feeling of an oak, brings to reality in the ‘natural’ cycle the foreboding of the first ‘English’ poem, ‘Nightmare’. It is an uncompromising vision ending with the much-repeated word ‘doun’ (signifying ‘the end of everything’, Britten told Johnson). Some relief came between these works in the lucid C major music Britten composed for one of his favourite instruments and performers: the Suite for Harp was the first of a number of pieces for Osian Ellis, a valued collaborator and alternative accompanist for Pears, and its final variations on the Welsh hymn tune ‘Saint Denio’ constitute a special compliment to his and the harp’s nationality.

The decade ended in flames with the dramatic conflagration of the Maltings concert hall on the first night of the festival, Saturday 7 June 1969 . Britten’s calm and practical nature excelled in such circumstances, and his leadership ensured that the festival programme continued. Served by an able administration and local builders, rebuilding with improvements forged ahead in time for the 1970 festival. There were other less flammable but perhaps more indicative disappointments about the decade. Two shelved opera projects that came to a head between 1963 and 1965 , King Lear and Anna Karenina , show that Britten was beginning to accept his limitations. In returning to social protest in connection with boyhood at the end of the 1960s, he was all but announcing that his obsessions were what made him function. He could not entirely adopt the ‘universal’ voice expected of the ‘classical music’ composer, however much he had tried in the War Requiem to do so. To his credit he knew that, but could not be absolutely explicit about his private obsessions to the extent of their losing resonance for other human beings of his class and culture.

8. Final testaments, 1970–76.

  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe
  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe

Britten was no fan of television: he did not own a set until Decca gave him one for his 60th birthday. But with the Maltings available, he determined around 1968 to go ahead with a television opera on a more obscure Henry James ghost story which for him had ‘much the same quality as the Screw ’ (Letters, iv, 300). Owen Wingrave , completed in August 1970 , recorded in November and broadcast simultaneously in Europe and America in May 1971 , is at one level a final testament on pacifism. The hero, scion of a military family, determines not to embark on an army career; disinherited as a result, he is goaded by his financée’s taunt of cowardice into being locked into the haunted room of the family mansion. On unlocking the door in remorse, she discovers him dead. The opera places great condemnatory weight on tradition and the family, the power of which is maintained in the almost complete absence of male authority (an old general totters through his expected gestures) by three women portrayed with unmitigated hostility in both music and television image as shoring up the patriarchy; we are barely invited to sympathize with any of them. Colin Graham claimed that ‘The massive audience was a wonderful opportunity for Britten to make his personal statement about war and the empty glory of heroism, in the context of the Vietnam War and the shooting of students … on Kent [State University] campus’ (Graham, in Herbert, E1979, p.54), although as Carpenter notes, much of the opera was written by the time of the Kent State shootings (508). Given McClatchie’s successful attempt (E1996) to show at another level how the discourse of homosexuality is displaced on to that of pacifism, the work may equally represent Britten’s pessimism about gay militancy, which had been recently energized by the New York Stonewall Riots of 1969 . Owen’s determination to be true to himself in the face of the enemy – tradition and the family – leads to a classic ‘coming out’ scene that Britten, schooled in a discretionary age, could never have contemplated for himself. James cannot resist the irony of Owen’s embracing peace only to die ‘all the young soldier on the gained field’, a point that Britten and Piper underscore (Owen’s reaction to past military heroes, like his own ancestors, is to want to ‘hang the lot’). Similarly, Britten and James send Owen literally back into his closet at the end of the opera, and kill him off as well: at least he has found ‘peace’. Musically this happens in one of Britten’s most celebrated arias not only accompanied by diatonic triads (like the ‘interview’ scene in Billy Budd ) but also given an overlay of gamelan music – the kind that in The Prince of the Pagodas signifies at best utopianism or nescience, at worst polymorphous perversity, definitely not erotic allure. Britten’s musical irony, in which each level peeled away reveals a further one beyond, extends to a critique of his own exoticism. The Wingrave family portraits are heralded by a pseudo-gamelan flourish with a militaristic tattoo on the drums; it opens the opera and recurs whenever they loom. The almost inaudible pitches, however, consist of one of the several 12-note collections of the opera, one that notably provides the diminished intervals that consign the Wingraves to the obsolescent and evil European past. Britten once compared Balinese music to Schoenberg in terms of complication, but mapping the one onto the other was to commit a meaningful kind of sacrilege: it undermines any attempt to think of signs as stable in his music and supports a pessimistic reading. Self-determination is a chimera, the opera seems to say, for there is always some ghost to disturb the perfect dénouement. Just as the pacifist can fight militarism only in its own terms (and lose in those terms), the opera might suggest, so the problem of the homosexual is to escape the history of sexuality into a new life without replicating the old ‘straight’ order, something understandably inconceivable to Britten. As in Peter Grimes , Britten appears instinctively to have anticipated an argument that would take queer theorists a decade or more to articulate. This opera may seem to preach, but it repays study as the testament of a man resigned to the way things are but nevertheless continuing to protest.

The 1970 Aldeburgh Festival was marked not only by the attendance of the Queen for the reopening of the Maltings but also by an article in The Observer (7 June), ‘At the Court of Benjamin Britten’. This put a name to the atmosphere typified architecturally by the extraordinary aperture on the side of the auditorium in which Britten, Pears and Imogen Holst would appear as icons to be worshipped and as judges of all that took place. Britten seemed to be losing his draw, his music gleefully seen as increasingly ‘thin’ by cognoscenti, the working conditions alienating performers, Aldeburgh politics becoming extra-Byzantine and the Russians failing to turn up because of political problems of their own. The pointless game of Tippett versus Britten seemed to be going in Tippett’s favour. Not unexpectedly, Britten retired further into the Suffolk countryside, taking a house at Horham to escape Aldeburgh’s increasing aircraft noise. In the following summer, Britten and Pears, full of ambitious ideas for the expansion of the Maltings into a full-scale arts centre and music school, clashed with the long-suffering festival manager, Stephen Reiss, in a deplorable manner that led to his resignation. The first three months of 1971 nevertheless saw the completion of two new works. Canticle IV, Journey of the Magi , a slightly detached and interior setting of the uneasy T.S. Eliot poem about death-in-birth and the difficulty of change, was written for the three singers, James Bowman, Pears and John Shirley-Quirk, who were to be principals in the next opera, already then in the planning stage. The third and most passionate Cello Suite incorporates four Russian themes, three folksongs arranged by Tchaikovsky and the moving Kontakion (Hymn for the Dead) which, as in earlier Britten solo works, are offered in their plain forms only at the end. It marks the culmination of a body of work inspired by Rostropovich’s rich and romantic performance of the Bach unaccompanied suites.

In September 1970 Britten asked Myfanwy Piper to write a libretto for an opera on Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice , an idea he had entertained for some time. The project moved forward at an unusually deliberate pace for Britten, and was not thrown off the rails by advance publicity, or even by the need to do something about the cardiac deterioration his doctor diagnosed in August 1972 . The composer was both determined and ‘desperately keen to make it the best thing I have ever done’ (Carpenter, 534). The composition sketch was finished by Christmas 1972 , the scoring early the following spring. Britten’s need to complete the work is understandable because it views the great themes of his music, from a fundamentally different and freshly revealing viewpoint. Aschenbach the writer’s relation to a handsome young boy, Tadzio, is created entirely in his imagination through the play of bodily form, motion, gesture and sound. His obsession is reflected by dense motivic allusion and serial manipulation in the music, and the beauty of Tadzio appropriately represented by dance and the bright ring of Balinese-inspired sounds. A particularly brilliant decision was the assignment to a single singer of the seven Hermes-like characters who stage Aschenbach’s journey towards death – or is it transfiguration? This has led critics into interpreting the work as a parable of artistic endeavour, hinging on the need for balance between Dionysian urges and Apollonian regulation along the lines of Mann’s response to Nietzsche’s theory of art.

But two facts have to be recognized before the critic can dispense with sex in favour of metaphysics: one is the cry wrung from Aschenbach at the end of Act 1 (‘I – love you’), the other (elegantly outlined by Travis, E1987, pp.132–3) that the notes accompanying the tortured 12-note monologue in which Aschenbach laments his creative impotence at the opening of the opera resolve into the ‘Tristan chord’, with a two-octave upward displacement of its tenor note B. The E–F tensions of Act 1 can also be seen to be derived from Wagner’s opening melodic gesture. Sex and sexuality cannot, then, be spirited away but are presented along Nietzsche’s inclusive model as reaching to the highest peaks of the intellect, not opposed to it. Further, the discourse Mann presents and Britten develops with Hellenic references – the Games of Apollo and The Dream – belongs to an older order of same-sex relations than 19th-century homosexuality, that of Greek pederasty. Imbuing the image of Tadzio with the sounds of Bali, moreover, took Mann’s discourse a stage further, elaborating on his suggestion of the Asiatic origins of the libidinous cult of Dionysus, and also of the cholera carried by the sirocco. This was dramatically apt, since the mind-driven Aschenbach through whom we perceive both Venice and Tadzio would be culturally conditioned to project them both in terms of the exotic, that which is Other. This Asian-derived music, then, opens up the meanings of the opera to embrace the European philosophical discourse of Self and Other, and in turn to invoke the West’s insatiable appetite for colonization – the same patterns of domination being apparent here as in classical pederasty. These are some of the themes of this multifarious and magnificent work, at one level a ‘musical autobiography’ (Carpenter, 554), at another an engagement with postwar, post-colonial Britain and the culture of the West.

After the completion of the opera, and celebrations of events with personal friends, Britten went into hospital on 6 April 1973 , and underwent an operation on 7 May to replace a failing heart valve. The operation was successful, but he suffered a slight stroke which affected his right hand, and the results were ultimately disappointing. Convalescence did not go smoothly and Britten felt unable to compose, perhaps for the first time. 60th birthday celebrations in November were held without his participation. Rostropovich visited in January 1974 to play the Cello Suite no.3 to Britten, who made some revisions. A little later Donald Mitchell interested him in revising the String Quartet in D ( 1931 ) for publication by Faber Music. At the National Heart Hospital where the operation was done, Britten became friendly with a senior sister, Rita Thomson, who went to Aldeburgh that Easter to look after him and stayed for the rest of his life. He improved notably under her care and began slowly to face serious work again, revising Paul Bunyan , some numbers of which had been given at the 1974 Aldeburgh Festival.

The first new work, completed in July that year, was Canticle V, The Death of Saint Narcissus . The setting of a dense and complicated early poem of T.S. Eliot, it was written for Pears to the accompaniment of Ellis’s harp, a poignant reminder that the composer’s accompanying days were past – but not the imagination that could create the beautiful, damaged ‘dancer before God’ in so few and eloquent strokes, faintly recalling the erotic intensity of Les illuminations . A projected Christmas opera along the lines of Noye’s Fludde never progressed beyond sketches, but while staying with Margaret Hesse at Wolfsgarten, he began the Suite on English Folk Tunes, and completed it in November. Its subtitle, ‘A time there was…’ comes from the Hardy poem, ‘Before Life and After’, that closes Winter Words , and the work, undertaken as a frame for Hankin Booby ( 1966 ), provides an elegant and nostalgic farewell to the folk and traditional music from which Britten had drawn so much; it was ‘lovingly and reverently dedicated to the memory of Percy Grainger’, with whom he identified as against the other English folksong composer-collectors. Another work recalling the brilliance of Britten’s writing for unaccompanied chorus followed almost immediately. Sacred and Profane , written for Pears’s Wilbye Consort and completed in January 1975 , takes eight medieval lyrics and sets them with a breathtaking directness and artful simplicity. Most moving in their intensity are the two laments for Christ on the cross, but good humour is not lacking, especially in the final song, which not only catalogues the attributes of death and decay with verve but ends on a suitably defiant note. The delight that Britten took in modifying simple strophic shapes in setting these medieval poems also provides enormous pleasure in A Birthday Hansel , a short cycle of Burns poems for high voice and harp written at the request of Queen Elizabeth for her mother’s 75th birthday ( 4 August 1975 ); completed in March, they were performed for the Queen Mother by Pears and Ellis the following January.

These three works were in a sense a final tribute to the musicianship and voice of Peter Pears, who was kept away from Aldeburgh for extended periods during Britten’s illness. In autumn 1974 he was in New York for the Metropolitan Opera production of Death in Venice and during this period Britten, after hearing a broadcast of their last British recital in 1972 , put down in writing all that Pears’s voice, personality and artistry had meant to him: their exchange of letters is deeply expressive of their remarkable partnership, unparalleled in 20th-century music (see Letters , vi, 645–6).

At the 1975 festival, Janet Baker sang Berlioz’s cycle Nuits d’été , and Britten decided to compose something for her on verse from Robert Lowell’s free translation of Racine’s Phèdre . An opera being now beyond his physical powers, he wrote a dramatic cantata in Handelian form, in which Phaedra addresses other characters (Aphrodite, Hippolytus, Oenone, Theseus) in discrete arias and recitatives, the latter accompanied by the traditional continuo instruments, harpsichord and cello. There is no glorification of Hippolytus in Phaedra , merely a ‘thin’ presto depiction of Phaedra’s obsession, with Racinian irony (see Palmer, D1984, p.410). Theseus is more beautifully outlined in a sweeping Apollonian A major theme (in key and opening gesture it recalls Theseus’s celebratory theme in Act 3 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream ). But more glorious still is the dénouement, in steadily rising ten-part string chords, an unusual sonority for Britten, in which the sexual outlaw, having made her forthright confession, finds nobility, peace and purity in an almost unsullied C major; sweet, fleeting, reminiscences of her life flicker as she dies and her spirit ascends in an apotheosis of muted string diatonic chord clusters rising through two octaves over the expiring pedal C.

Hans Keller, to whom Britten dedicated his last major work, the String Quartet no.3, wrote that here the composer had taken ‘that decisive step beyond – into the Mozartian realm of the instrumental purification of opera’ (Herbert, E1979, p.xv). Another way of putting that without endorsing the genre over the substance is to say that there is really no music of Britten’s that fails to render meanings. Owing to his eternal seeking and questioning and the ambiguity with which he managed to imbue the common musical symbols of his tradition, those meanings are rarely simple. Quotations from Death in Venice occur in the recitative introduction to the passacaglia finale, appropriately sketched on a last visit to Venice in November 1975 , and allusions to the opera are made in various ways throughout. The agenda probably includes the redemption or transfiguration of Aschenbach, with whom the composer clearly identified, to whose E major both first and last movements reach. But the most complete tonal resolution, on Britten’s ‘own’ C major, occurs in the enigmatic central movement of the five, ‘Solo’; and the end, when it arrives, not only comes ‘with a question’, as Britten put it, but draws attention both to the arbitrary nature of closure (in art as in life) and in retrospect to the more complete closures earlier on (see Rupprecht, in Cooke, D1999, p.258). Whatever the interpretation, few listeners will doubt that this is as profound a work as anything Britten wrote.

It is nevertheless appropriate that his last complete work, finished in August 1976 , was the unpretentious and cheerful Welcome Ode , written for a local occasion – a visit of the Queen Mother to Ipswich – and designed for ‘young people’s chorus and orchestra’. As Evans pointed out (D1979, p.292), the development of instrumental teaching and growth of youth orchestras in Britain made it possible for Britten to demand a good deal, and it is fitting that his mission as a composer should have ended not with the high-flown quartet but this straightforward and unpatronizing gesture to the children he loved so much. In fact, work had become increasingly difficult during 1976 , and was made up largely of what he might at other times have called ‘chores’ – a Tema ‘Sacher’ that Rostropovich could play for the 70th birthday of Paul Sacher, an arrangement for viola and string orchestra of Lachrymae and some folksong arrangements for Pears and Ellis. In July he started on a project to mark Rostropovich’s first season with the National SO in Washington, DC, a cantata setting of the poem Edith Sitwell had dedicated to him, ‘Praise we Great Men’. The work remained incomplete, reaching a performable state only through the efforts of Colin Matthews, the young composer who had assisted with the scoring of Death in Venice and had become more intimately involved in Britten’s composing as the older composer became increasingly infirm.

During the 1976 Aldeburgh Festival, in which the revised Paul Bunyan was staged and Phaedra made a deeply emotional impact, Britten was awarded a life peerage. Plenty of musicians had received knighthoods but none a peerage; according to Rosamund Strode, ‘Ben didn’t mind about himself in the least. He just felt it was marvellous for music’ (Carpenter, 580). Others have viewed his acceptance with puzzlement or irony: but it seems entirely characteristic of the man who wanted so much to belong to the society he thought he didn’t fit into. By this time he was desperately ill, and even took communion from a bishop who visited. On his birthday in November he took leave of his closest friends, and during the night of 3–4 December he died in the arms of Peter Pears.

9. Reception, influence, significance.

  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe
  • Philip Brett
  • , revised by Heather Wiebe

After Britten’s death there was no appreciable lapse of interest in his music; its audience rather increased during the last quarter of the 20th century. Perhaps the tide that swept away Darmstadt orthodoxies and brought in neo-Romanticism, minimalism and other modes of expression involved with tonality carried with it renewed interest in composers who had been out of step with the times. Britten’s 12-note manipulations could now be seen as retaliatory and subversive rather than as conciliatory and accommodating. His instinct for success, some would observe, had put him ultimately on the winning side. A simpler idea would be that his music is very good, and quality is irresistible. To maintain this as true (difficult in a postmodern environment) leads to the question ‘how good?’ and to unseemly comparisons. It is enough to note that Britten turned out to be more than the ‘local Shostakovich’ of Thomson’s 1940s taunt – accurate to the extent that Britten was indeed to the UK what Shostakovich was to the USSR, and that he made an increasing issue out of locality. But to set Britten against the modernist ‘giants’ of the previous generation is as pointless as comparing him with innovatory popular musicians of a younger generation who reached a far wider audience still. Like most remarkable composers he was inimitable, possessed of a distinctive voice which renovated every aspect of the classical tonal tradition in which he worked, a voice and sound too dangerous to imitate.

The extent of his influence might nevertheless be taken up as an indication of his stature. Probably no subsequent British composer can have been entirely unaffected by his life and work, if not at a musical then at an organizational and operational level. He is a key figure in the growth of British musical culture in the second half of the 20th century, and his effect on everything from opera to the revitalization of music education is hard to overestimate. More formal homage came from composers everywhere as Britten’s life drew on. And in Britain and beyond, he continues to be a model for composers interested in the goals of communication, accessibility and social function.

Britten was in most respects an exceptionally aware composer; the areas in which that awareness failed are therefore all the more telling. A full half of the dramatic works (those in Herbert, E1979), include no women’s voices or (like Paul Bunyan and Death in Venice ) no significant female roles. Gloriana movingly portrays a woman’s struggle with a traditionally male role; the Madwoman in Curlew River , arguably Britten’s most touching female character, is sung by a man. This leaves the purposely ambivalent portrayal of the Governess in The Turn of the Screw as the chief contribution to gender variation in the operas (the fearsome group of female characters in Owen Wingrave would need special pleading under any circumstances). The musical depiction of Phaedra as ennobled rather than mad may be a last-minute reprieve, yet it is hard to avoid the conclusion that ‘for the most part [Britten] confines his women to traditional roles and stereotypes, often identifying them with the society that restricts or even destroys his main characters’ (McDonald, E1986, p.83). Compounding this limitation is the failure of ‘such a champion of the oppressed … to see the underlying connections among different kinds of oppression’ (ibid., p.100).

An un-Forsterian lack of connection can also be discerned in Britten’s appropriation of Asian music and drama. His uses of these sources they were put, which include traditionally exotic colouring, the projection of aberrant sexual desire and even the utopian portrayal of such things as ‘peace’, the Platonic perfection of Beauty and, inevitably, nescience. His status as a homosexual oppressed in his own culture has been cast as a mitigating circumstance: his ‘Orientalism’ – to apply Edward Said’s critique, and his terminology, to this phenomenon – was not of the same kind as Durrell’s or Flaubert’s (see Brett, E1994). Britten’s enclosing of his own meanings in the protective borrowed frame, and in Curlew River his appropriating aspects of Japanese that appealed to him while discarding the Buddhist elements that did not, may argue the opposite (Sheppard, in Revealing Masks , E2002, pp.153–4). Such examples, rather than distancing Britten from the ‘colonizing impulse’, arguably put him in collusion with it, placing him in line with the Elgar he would have despised as the inheritor of limited and unthinking attitudes to other peoples of the world even while he was admiring of, as well as benefiting financially and artistically from, their artistic prowess. Nonetheless, Britten’s travels and engagement with Asian music show a wide-ranging curiosity about other cultures and traditions, while linking him to a broader set of interests in non-Western music within modernism (see Cooke, D1998).

Issues of gender and race are the more important because of Britten’s claims to effective political and social engagement in other areas. His political commitment, begun under the tutelage of Auden and Isherwood and developed through contact with Forster and others, stems from a complicated sense of himself as a homosexual. Sensing the difficulties surrounding the place of the homosexual in society, and positioning himself so that his partnership with Pears, projected as ‘normal’, masked his paedophilia, Britten pursued a political agenda distinct from the liberal socialism of his predecessor Vaughan Williams. It was similarly rooted in the past, and involved ‘a sense of disengagement from immediate politics’ that increased as Britten grew older (Carpenter, 486). Along the lines of interwar homosexual pacifist ideals, Brett has argued, it placed personal relations above allegiance to institutions; it put the individual before society; it tended to show institutions such as the law, the military and the church as hypocritical, unjust or simply evil; it favoured erotic relations over marriage; it portrayed the patriarchal family as shallow and oppressive; it passionately argued justice for the victim and the victimized; and it presented the difficulty of homoerotic relations as a legacy of this society (see Brett, D2006, p.220). Britten’s assimilation into the British establishment, and his silence on contemporary issues, effectively camouflaged the devastating extent of this social and political critique in his works.

It may be that North America taught Britten that to work for centrality at home would ultimately be more artistically and therefore politically effective than marginality abroad – as a means of articulating a message to society from that margin where Britten, at least, always imagined he lived. His old left friends like Slater and Auden were irritated to see him as a ‘courtier’, and gay politics, from which he distanced himself, have moved far beyond his nervous position. Yet one still needs to acknowledge his consistency and integrity in pursuing, sometimes to his friends’ acute discomfort, a fairly incisive and certainly passionate line on pacifism and homosexuality in relation to subjectivity, nationality and the institutions of the capitalist democracy in which he lived. This line he maintained in his work rather than his life, where he acted out a role of charm and compliance laced with occasional brutality.

Britten’s artistic effort might be seen, then, as an attempt to disrupt the centre that it occupied with the marginality that it expressed. If in life he was less discerning than Forster, his achievement as an artist makes interesting counterpoint with that of the novelist who never specifically addressed the persecution of his own kind until Maurice , which appeared posthumously. ‘We are after all queer &left &conshies which is enough to put us, or make us put ourselves, outside the pale, apart from being artists as well’, wrote Pears in 1963 to Britten, who in his public life predictably ‘wanted to be just an absolutely normal person’ (as reported by Reiss to Carpenter, 419–20, 445). It was Britten’s achievement (reinforced rather than contradicted by Tippett) that British art music during his years of ascendancy came to embrace what was indelibly ‘queer &left &conshie’: and, instead of being instantly marginalized, it has travelled all over the world. There is no need to argue that in the process of assimilation Britten’s music may have had some transformative effect; it is enough to note that, for anyone inclined to explore beyond its deceptively ‘conservative’ and desperately inviting surface, it offers not only a rigorous critique of the past but possibly also the vision of a differently organized reality for the future.

Britten reception, scholarship and criticism provides an avenue for exploring signs of his ultimate valuation. His financial success made possible the founding of several monuments to him and Pears in the Aldeburgh area, including a library at the Red House where the autographs, sketches and papers were long kept. As of the Britten centenary in 2013 , this has grown into a set of public exhibitions at the Red House and a new Archive Centre. The Britten-Pears Foundation and a circle of scholars working closely with it have made available an enormous amount of documentary material, from published letters and diaries to the photographs, sketches, programmes and other material now available online.

For some years after Britten’s death, the tone of criticism was both laudatory and protective. Philip Brett broke a prevailing silence on the issue of Britten’s sexuality and its relevance to his works, beginning with his groundbreaking article on homosexual themes in Peter Grimes , published in 1977 , the year after Britten’s death. Following in Brett’s footsteps, scholars have continued to explore issues of homosexuality in Britten’s music, placing Britten at the centre of the ‘music and sexuality’ debates of the 1980s and 90s; their work has varied broadly, from claiming Britten as a positive model of the gay artist (Hindley, E1992) to nuanced readings of desire (Longobardi, D2004) and the ethics of encounter (Whitesell, D2003). One could argue that issues of sexuality have been incorporated into much critical discourse on Britten. At the same time, the growth of scholarly interest in Britten’s homosexuality has prompted some critical resistance (Cooke, D1999, p.7; Elliott, D2006, p.3), with some scholars arguing against the centrality of sexuality in Britten’s music, positioning it as one issue amongst many, while others suggest more strongly that a focus on sexuality creates distorted interpretations and fails to address his music’s appeal (an argument critiqued in Whitesell, 682).

This musicological discourse on issues of sexuality in Britten’s music was eased by a new openness about his biography, beginning with Humphrey Carpenter’s 1992 account. It discussed details of Britten’s sexual life which some had thought unmentionable, in distinctly psychoanalytical terms. Since the late 1990s, a steady stream of biographical studies has followed, in multiple languages and from many different points of view. Taken alongside the detailed accounts provided in the heavily annotated Letters From a Life and the published diaries, as well as some fictionalized representations (in Alan Bennett’s play The Habit of Art and the musical February House ), these studies suggest a lively scholarly and public interest in Britten’s life, both in the UK and abroad, and this interest often inflects criticism and stagings of his works.

Musical analysis has been prominent in Britten criticism from the start (as represented by the distinguished work of Stein and Keller, for example). Peter Evans’s analytical study (D1979) was the first major, single-author book on Britten’s entire output to appear. Arnold Whittall has extended this tradition, while a new generation of theorists has explored approaches from tonal and Schenkerian analysis to utterance theory (Rupprecht, D2002). Meanwhile, the modes of criticism have diversified in other ways. Sketch studies and source studies continue to be central, thanks largely to the efforts of the Britten-Pears Foundation. But scholars have also attended more closely to how Britten’s music is enmeshed in its historical moment, whether its economic infrastructure (Kildea, D2002) or its wider cultural concerns (Wiebe, E2012); and they have looked to an eclectic set of issues, from Britten’s approach to Christianity (Elliott) to his relationships with writers and other composers. At the same time, the slightly protective stance long noted in Britten scholarship is perhaps finally loosening, with the growth of reception studies and a new willingness to engage with problematic aspects of Britten’s music and to revisit those works considered potentially damaging to his reputation (Walker, D2009, p.1; Chowrimootoo, E2011; Wiebe, E2012).

Britten’s canonical status has not always been secure, particularly in the eyes of British music critics anxious for wider European viability for the national artistic product, scornful of the thinness of his melody-orientated music and perhaps uneasy about its religious overtones, strange brand of exoticism and political affiliations. Criticism by Paul Griffiths (D1991) and Robin Holloway (D1992) points in the one case regretfully to Britten’s retreat from European eclecticism into cosy provincialism and in the other to a failure of musical nerve at important moments. Recent re-evaluations of modernism have allowed Britten a less marginalized position in the historiography of 20th-century music, however, while lessening anxieties about the nature of his contribution. On Britten’s centenary, his cultural position seems unassailable. As his works are re-interpreted in rapidly expanding scholarship and on operatic and concert stages around the world, they display a continuing vitality, richness and relevance. Even long-ignored works, such as Paul Bunyan and Gloriana , have received new attention. If Britten might be said to speak from the margins, from another perspective, his contribution may be less oppositional in nature. His music is revealing in part for the ways it negotiates the contradictions of modernism and mid-20th-century modernity: finding a middle ground between communication and exploration and between tradition and the new, and responding in sophicated ways to its political and cultural moment.


  • Jennifer Doctor, Judith LeGrove, Paul Banks and Heather Wiebe
  • Jennifer Doctor ,Judith LeGrove ,Paul Banks and Heather Wiebe


Original works

dates are of first publication; earlier printed rehearsal editions are in GB-ALb and Lbl



Genre, acts



First performance

Publication; autograph


Paul Bunyan

operetta, prol, 2


W.H. Auden

cond. H. Ross, New York, Columbia U., 5 May 1941

rev. version


cond. S. Bedford, BBC, 1 Feb 1976; stage, cond. Bedford, Snape Maltings, 4 June 1976

vs 1978, fs 1993


Peter Grimes

op, prol, 3


M. Slater, after G. Crabbe: The Borough

cond. Goodall, London, Sadler’s Wells, 7 June 1945

vs 1945, study score 1963; US-Wc


The Rape of Lucretia

op, 2

1946; rev. 1947

R. Duncan, after A. Obey: Le viol de Lucrèce

cond. Ansermet, Glyndebourne, 12 July 1946

vs 1946, vs 1947 (rev. edn), study score 1958


Albert Herring

comic op, 3


E. Crozier, after G. de Maupassant: Le rosier de Madame Husson

cond. Britten, Glyndebourne, 20 June 1947

vs 1948, study score 1970


The Little Sweep [Act 3 of Let’s Make an Opera, op.45]

‘an entertainment for young people’



cond. N. Del Mar, Aldeburgh, Jubilee Hall, 14 June 1949

vs 1950, study score 1965


Billy Budd



E.M. Forster and Crozier, after H. Melville

cond. Britten, London, CG, 1 Dec 1951

vs 1952

rev. version

op, 2


cond. Britten, BBC, 13 Nov 1960; stage, cond. Solti,. London, CG, 9 Jan 1964

vs 1961, study score 1985



op, 3

1952–3; rev. 1966

W. Plomer, after L. Strachey: Elizabeth and Essex

cond. Pritchard, London, CG, 8 June 1953

vs 1953, vs 1968 (rev. edn), study score 1990; GB-Lbl


The Turn of the Screw

op, prol, 2


M. Piper, after H. James

cond. Britten, Venice, Fenice, 14 Sept 1954

vs 1955, study score 1966


The Prince of the Pagodas

ballet, 3


J. Cranko

cond. Britten, London, CG, 1 Jan 1957

study score 1989


Noye’s Fludde



Chester miracle play

cond. Mackerras, Orford Church, 18 June 1958

vs 1958, fs 1959


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

op, 3


Britten and Pears, after W. Shakespeare

cond. Britten, Aldeburgh, Jubilee Hall, 11 June 1960

vs 1960, study score 1962


Curlew River

church parable, 1


Plomer, after J. Motomasa: Sumidagawa

dir. Britten, Orford Church, 12 June 1964

rehearsal score 1965, fs 1983


The Burning Fiery Furnace

church parable, 1


Plomer, after Bible: Daniel i–iii

dir. Britten, Orford Church, 9 June 1966

rehearsal score 1968, fs 1983


The Golden Vanity

vaudeville for boys and pf


C. Graham, after old Eng. ballad

Vienna Boys’ Choir, dir. A. Neyder, Snape Maltings, 3 June 1967



The Prodigal Son

church parable, 1


Plomer, after Bible: Luke xv.11–32

dir. Britten, Orford Church, 10 June 1968

rehearsal score 1971, fs 1986


Owen Wingrave

op, 2


Piper, after James

cond. Britten, BBC TV, 16 May 1971; stage, cond. Bedford, London, CG, 10 May 1973

vs 1973, fs 1995


Death in Venice

op, 2

1971–3; rev. 1973–4

Piper, after T. Mann

cond. Bedford, Snape Maltings, 16 June 1973

vs 1975, fs 1979

Realizations and completions
J. Gay

The Beggar’s Opera, realized Britten (ballad op, 3, Gay, T. Guthrie), op.43, 1947–8

cond. Britten, Cambridge, Arts Theatre, 24 May 1948

vs (1949), study score (1997)

H. Purcell

Dido and Aeneas, z 626, ed. Britten and I. Holst (op, 3, N. Tate), 1950–51, rev. 1958–9

cond. Britten, Hammersmith, Lyric, 1 May 1951

rev. version, cond. Britten, Drottningholm, 16 May 1962

vs (1960), fs (1961)


The Fairy Queen, z 629, ed. Pears, Britten and I. Holst (masque, after Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream ), 1967

cond. Britten, Snape Maltings, 25 June 1967

vs (1970)

G. Holst

The Wandering Scholar, op.50, ed. Britten and I. Holst (chbr op, 1, C. Bax), ?1948–51

cond. I. Clayton, BBC, 5 Jan 1949

vs (1968)

Incidental music


recording sessions were in year of composition unless otherwise stated

GPO produced by General Post Office Film Unit

BCGA produced by British Commercial Gas Association

The King’s Stamp, fl + pic, cl, perc, 2 pf, April–May 1935 [rec. 17 May]

GPO, dir. W. Coldstream, 1935

Coal Face (verse: W.H. Auden, M. Slater), spkr, whistler, SATB, perc, pf, May–June 1935 [rec. 19, 26 June]

GPO producer J. Grierson, dir. A. Cavalcanti, 1935


the Story of the Central Telegraph Office, fl, ob, cl, perc, pf, July 1935 [rec. 20 July]

GPO, producer S. Legg, 1935

Telegrams, boys’ vv, fl, ob, cl, perc, pf, July 1935 [1st recording session 20 July]

GPO [film unidentified]

The Tocher (film ballet), boys’ vv, fl + pic, ob, cl, perc, pf, July 1935 [rec. 20 July]

GPO producer Cavalcanti, animator L. Reiniger, 1938 [see also choral , Rossini Suite]

Gas Abstract, fl, cl, bn, perc, pf, Aug–Sept 1935 [rec. 3 Sept]

?BCGA [film unidentified]

Dinner Hour, fl, cl, perc, pf, vn, vc, Sept 1935 [rec. 16 Sept]

BCGA, dir. A. Elton, 1936

Title Music III, fl, cl, perc, pf, vn, vc, Sept 1935 [rec. 16 Sept]

BCGA, dir. A. Elton, ?1936 [film unidentified]

Men behind the Meters, fl, ob, cl, perc, glock, pf, vn, vc, Sept–Oct 1935 [rec. 16 Sept, 2 Oct]

ARFP for BCGA, dir. A. Elton, 1936

Conquering Space

the Story of Modern Communications, fl, ob, cl, bn, perc, pf, Sept 1935 [rec. 1 Oct]

GPO, dir. Legg, 1935

How the Dial Works, fl, ob, cl, perc, pf, Sept 1935 [rec. 1 Oct]

GPO, producer R. Elton, R. Morrison, 1937

The New Operator, fl, ob, cl, bn, perc, pf, Sept 1935 [rec. 1 Oct]

GPO, producer J. Grierson, dir. Legg [soundtrack for silent film; never released]

The Savings Bank, fl, ob, cl, bn, perc, pf, Sept 1935 [rec. 1 Oct]

GPO, dir. Legg, 1935

Sorting Office, fl, ob, cl, bn, perc, pf, Sept 1935 [rec. 1 Oct]

GPO, dir. H. Watt [soundtrack for silent film; never released]

Negroes/God’s Chillun (Auden), Sept–Nov 1935, rev. Jan 1938 [rec. 8 Jan]

S, T, B, TB chorus, ob + eng hn + tambourine, perc, hp, pf + b drum; GPO, 1938

GPO Title Music 1 and 2, fl, ob, bn, tpt, perc, hp, vn, va, vc, db, ?Nov 1935

GPO [film unidentified]

Night Mail (J. Grierson, Watt, B. Wright; verse: Auden), spkr, fl, ob, bn, tpt, perc, vn, va, vc, db, Nov 1935–Jan 1936 [rec. Dec 1935–Jan 1936] (2000)

GPO, producer Grierson, dir. Watt, Wright, sound dir. Cavalcanti, 1936 [see instrumental ensemble ]

Peace of Britain, fl, cl, tpt, perc, pf, str, March 1936 [rec. 21 March]

Freenat Films and Strand Films, dir. P. Rotha, 1936

Around the Village Green, 2 fl, ob, cl, tpt, trbn, timp, perc, hp, str, April, Sept–Oct 1936 [rec. 19, 21 Oct]

Travel and Industrial Development Association, dir. Spice, M. Grierson, 1937 [see orchestral , Irish Reel]

Men of the Alps, fl + pic, cl, tpt, trbn, perc, hp, str; Sept–Oct 1936 [rec. 20 Oct]

GPO and Pro Telephon, Zürich, producer, Watt, dir. Cavalcanti, 1937

The Saving of Bill Blewitt, fl, cl, tpt, trbn, perc, hp, str, Oct 1936 [rec. 20 Oct]

GPO, producer J. Grierson, dir. Watt, 1937

music lost

Calendar of the Year, March, Sept–Nov 1936 [rec. 9, 20 Oct, 3 Nov]

GPO, produced Cavalcanti, dir. E. Spice, 1937

most music lost

Line to the Tschierva Hut, fl + pic, cl, tpt, trbn, perc, hp, str, Sept–Nov 1936 [rec. 20 Oct, 3 Nov]

GPO and Pro Telephon, Zürich, producer, J. Grierson, dir. Cavalcanti, 1937

Four Barriers, ?Sept–Nov 1936

GPO and Pro Telephon, Zürich, producer Watt, dir. Cavalcanti, 1937

music lost

Message from Geneva, ?Sept 1936

GPO and Pro Telephon, Zürich, dir. Cavalcanti, 1937

music lost

Love from a Stranger (F. Marion, adapted from play by F. Vosper, after A. Christie: Philomel Cottage ), orch, Nov 1936 [rec. 25, 27 Nov] (2000, transcr. C. Matthews)

Capitol (Trafalgar) Films/Max Schach Productions, produced Schach, dir. R.V. Lee, 1937 [feature film; for pubd version, see Arrangements by others of Britten works]

The Way to the Sea (verse: Auden), spkr, fl + pic, ob + eng hn, cl, a sax, bn, tpt, trbn, perc, hp, pf, Dec 1936 [rec. 14, 16 Dec]

Strand Films for Southern Railway, producer Rotha, dir. J.B. Holmes, 1937

Book Bargain, ?1936–7

GPO, dir. N. McLaren, 1937

Advance Democracy (R. Bond), SATB, perc, 1938

Realist Film Unit, dir. Bond, Wright, 1938

Mony a Pickle, ?1938

GPO, dir. Cavalcanti, R. Massingham, 1938 [music taken from The King’s Stamp, probably without Britten’s knowledge]

Instruments of the Orchestra (Slater), orch, 1945 [rec. 28 March 1946] (1947)

Crown Film Unit, producer A. Shaw, dir. M. Mathieson, 1946 [see orchestral , The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, 1945]


King Arthur (D.G. Bridson), SATB, orch, March–April 1937

BBC, 23 April 1937 [for pubd Suite, see Arrangements by others of Britten works]

The Company of Heaven (compiled R.E. Roberts), S, T, SATB, timp, org, str, Aug–Sept 1937 (1990)

BBC, 29 Sept 1937 [see vocal : solo voices and chorus with orchestra]

Hadrian’s Wall (W.H. Auden), solo male v, SATB, perc, str qt, Nov 1937

BBC, 25 Nov 1937

music lost

Lines on the Map (4 programmes: S. Potter, J. Miller, D.F. Aitken and E.J. Alway, Potter), 2 tpt, 2 trbn, perc, Jan 1938

BBC, Jan–April 1938

The Chartists’ March (J.H. Miller), TB, perc, April–May 1938

BBC, 13 May 1938; music lost

The World of the Spirit (compiled Roberts), S, A, T, B, SATB, orch, April–May 1938 (2000)

BBC, 5 June 1938 [see vocal : solo voices and chorus with orchestra]

The Sword in the Stone (6 pts, M. Helweg, after T.H. White), solo female v, 2 solo male vv, TB, fl + pic, cl, bn, tpt, trbn, perc, hp, April–May 1939

BBC, 11 June – 16 July 1939 [for pubd Suite, see Arrangements by others of Britten works]

The Dark Valley (Auden), solo female v, fl, eng hn, cl, tpt, perc, May 1940

CBS (New York), 2 June 1940

The Dynasts (after T. Hardy), brass, perc, str, 1940

CBS (New York), 24 Nov 1940

music lost

The Rocking-Horse Winner (Auden and J. Stern, after D.H. Lawrence), male vv, fl, cl, perc, hp, 1941

CBS (New York), 6 April 1941

music lost

Appointment (N. Corwin), orch, 1942

BBC, 20 July 1942

An American in England (6 programmes: Corwin), orch, July 1942

CBS (London), July–Sept 1942

Lumberjacks of America (R. MacDougall), fl, cl, bn, 2 tpt, trbn, perc, pf, hp, db, July–Aug 1942

BBC, 24 Aug 1942

The Man Born to be King, play 10

The Princes of this World (D.L. Sayers), solo male v, pf, 1942

BBC, 23 Aug 1942 [song: Bring me garlands, bring me wine]

The Man Born to be King, play 11

King of Sorrows (Sayers), S/Mez, male chorus, hp/pf, Sept 1942

BBC, 20 Sept 1942 [song: Soldier, soldier, why will you roam]

Britain to America (programmes i/9, ii/4, ii/13: L. MacNeice), orch, 1942

BBC North American Service, Sept, Nov 1942, Jan 1943

The Four Freedoms, programme 1: Pericles (MacNeice), 1943

BBC, 21 Feb 1943; music lost

The Rescue (E. Sackville-West, after Homer: Odyssey ), S, Mez, T, B, orch, 1943

BBC, 25–6 Nov 1943 [for concert version, see Arrangements by others of Britten works]

A Poet’s Christmas (Auden), SATB, 1944; BBC, 24 Dec 1944 [music for: 1 A Shepherd’s Carol, 2 Chorale after an Old French Carol]

The Dark Tower (MacNeice), tpt, perc, str, 1945

BBC, 21 Jan 1946

Men of Goodwill (compiled L. Gilliam and L. Cottrell), orch, 1947

BBC, 25 Dec 1947


Timon of Athens (W. Shakespeare), 2 ob, perc, hpd, Oct–Nov 1935

producer N. Monck, London, Westminster Theatre, 19 Nov 1935

Easter 1916 (M. Slater), mixed vv, perc, accdn, Dec 1935

producer A. van Gyseghem, London, Phoenix, 8 Dec 1935

music lost

Stay down Miner (Slater), T/Bar, TB chorus, cl, perc, vn, vc, May 1936

producer W. Walter, London, Westminster Theatre, 10 May 1936

The Agamemnon of Aeschylus (trans. L. MacNeice), SATB, 2 fl, eng hn, cl, perc, Oct 1936

producer R. Doone, London, Westminster Theatre, 1 Nov 1936

The Ascent of F6 (W.H. Auden, C. Isherwood), solo female v, 2 solo male vv, SATB, perc, ukulele, 2 pf, Feb 1937

producer Doone, London, Mercury, 26 Feb 1937

Pageant of Empire (Slater), mixed vv, cl, a sax, tpt, perc, pf, vn, vc, db, Feb 1937

London, Collins’ Music Hall, 28 Feb 1937

Out of the Picture (MacNeice), S, solo male v, SATB, tpt, perc, pf, Dec 1937

producer Doone, London, Westminster Theatre, 5 Dec 1937

Spain (Slater), mixed vv, cl, vn, pf, June 1938

London, Mercury, 22 June 1938

music lost

On the Frontier (Auden, Isherwood), male v, chorus, 2 tpt, perc, accdn, pf, Oct–Nov 1938

producer Doone, Cambridge, Arts, 14 Nov 1938

They Walk Alone (M. Catto), org, Nov 1938 [prelude (2004)]

producer B. Viertel, London, Q Theatre, 21 Nov 1938

The Seven Ages of Man (Slater), 1938

London, Mercury, 1938; music lost

Johnson over Jordan (J.B. Priestley), S, fl + pic, orch, Jan–Feb 1939

producer B. Dean, London, New, 22 Feb 1939 [for pubd Suite, see Arrangements by others of Britten works]

This Way to the Tomb (R. Duncan), S, A, T, B, SATB, perc, pf 4 hands, 1945

producer E.M. Browne, London, Mercury, 11 Oct 1945

The Eagle has Two Heads (J. Cocteau, trans. Duncan), brass, perc, 1946

producer M. MacDonald, Hammersmith, Lyric, 4 Sept 1946

The Duchess of Malfi (J. Webster, adapted Auden), 1946

producer G. Rylands, Providence, RI, Metropolitan, 20 Sept 1946

music lost

Stratton (Duncan), 1949

producer J. Fernald, Brighton, Royal, 31 Oct 1949

music lost

Am stram gram (A. Roussin), mixed vv, pf, 1954

producer V. Azaria, London, Toynbee Hall, 4 March 1954 [for pubn, see vocal : chorus with instrumental ensemble or solo instrument]

The Punch Revue (Auden, W. Plomer), female v, pf, 1955

producer V. Hope, London, Duke of York’s, 28 Sept 1955

For further details of Britten’s incidental music, see Evans, Reed and Wilson (B1987) and Reed (F1987).


c 60 unpubd juvenilia

Two Portraits, str (no.2 with solo va) 1930 (1997)

M. Gerrard, Northern Sinfonia, cond. M. Brabbins, BBC, 5 Dec 1995

Plymouth Town, 1931 (2005) [orig. a ballet, never perf.]

Double Concerto, vn, va, orch, 1932 (1999, ed. C. Matthews)

K. Hunka, P. Dukes, Britten-Pears Orchestra, cond. Nagano, Snape Maltings, 15 June 1997


Sinfonietta, chbr orch, 1932 (1935), London, 31 Jan 1933; version for small orch, 1936, cond. E. Cundell, London, 10 March 1936


Simple Symphony, str, 1933–4 (1935)

cond. Britten, Norwich, 6 March 1934


Soirées musicales [after Rossini]: 1 March, 2 Canzonetta, 3 Tirolese, 4 Bolero, 5 Tarantella, 1935–6 (1938)

BBC Orch, cond. J. Lewis, BBC, 16 Jan 1937 [nos.1, 2, 4 adapted from choral work, Rossini Suite, 1935; see also Matinées musicales, op.24]

Irish Reel, 1936, rev. 1937 (1996)

Charles Brill Orchestra, cond. Brill, BBC, 21 April 1938 [composed as title music to film score, Around the Village Green, 1936]


Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, str, 1937 (1938)

Boyd Neel Orchestra, cond. Neel, Radio Hilversum, Netherlands, 25 Aug 1937


Mont Juic [after Catalan dances], 1937 (1938), collab. L. Berkeley; BBC Orchestra, cond. Lewis, BBC, 8 Jan 1938


Piano Concerto, 1938 (red. score 1939), rev. 1945 (red. score 1946, fs 1967)

Britten, BBC SO, cond. Wood, London, 18 Aug 1938


Violin Concerto, 1938–9 (red. score 1940), rev. 1950, 1954 (red. score 1958), 1965 (1965)

A. Brosa, New York PO, cond. Barbirolli, New York, 28 March 1940


Young Apollo, pf, str qt, str orch, 1939 (1982)

Britten, CBC String Orchestra, cond. A. Chuhaldin, CBC, 27 Aug 1939; withdrawn


Canadian Carnival (Kermesse canadienne), 1939 (1948)

BBC Orchestra, cond. Raybould, BBC, 6 June 1940


Sinfonia da Requiem, 1939–40 (1942)

New York PO, cond. Barbirolli, New York, 29 March 1941


Diversions, pf left hand, orch, 1940 (1941), rev. 1950, 1953–4 (red. score 1955, fs 1988)

Wittgenstein, Philadelphia Orchestra, cond. Ormandy, Philadelphia, 16 Jan 1942


Matinées musicales [after Rossini]: 1 March, 2 Nocturne, 3 Waltz, 4 Pantomime, 5 Moto perpetuo, 1941 (1943)

American Ballet Company, cond. E. Balaban, Rio de Janeiro, 27 June 1941 [no.1 is reorchestration of no.3 from choral work, Rossini Suite, 1935; see also Soirées musicales, op.9]

Paul Bunyan Overture, 1941, orchd C. Matthews 1977 (1980)

European Community Youth Orchestra, cond. J. Judd, London, 6 Aug 1978

An American Overture, 1941 (1985)

CBSO, cond. Rattle, Birmingham, 8 Nov 1983


Scottish Ballad, 2 pf, orch, 1941 (red. score 1946, fs 1969)

E. Bartlett, R. Robertson, Cincinnati SO, cond. E. Goossens, Cincinnati, 28 Nov 1941

Movement for Clarinet and Orch, 1941–2, orchd C. Matthews c 1990; M. Collins, Britten-Pears Orchestra, cond. T. Vásáry, London, 7 March 1990


Prelude and Fugue, 18-pt str orch, 1943 (1951)

Boyd Neel Orchestra, cond. Neel, London, 23 June 1943


Four Sea Interludes, from Peter Grimes, 1945 (1946)

LPO, cond. Britten, Cheltenham, 13 June 1945


Passacaglia, from Peter Grimes, 1945 (1946)

BBC SO, cond. Boult, London, 29 Aug 1945


The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell (opt. text: E. Crozier), spkr ad lib, orch, 1945 (1947)

Liverpool PO, cond. Sargent, Liverpool, 15 Oct 1946


Occasional Overture, 1946 (1984)

BBC SO, cond. Boult, BBC, 29 Sept 1946; withdrawn

Men of Goodwill: Variations on a Christmas Carol (‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen’), 1947 (1982)

LSO, cond. W. Goehr, BBC, 25 Dec 1947


Lachrymae, va, str, 1976 (1977)

R. Moog, Westphalian SO, cond. K.A. Rickenbacher, Recklinghausen, 3 May 1977 [arr. of chbr work, op.48]

Variation on an Elizabethan Theme, str, 1953; Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra, cond. Britten, BBC, 16 June 1953 [theme by Byrd, Sellenger’s Round, arr. I. Holst, other variations by A. Oldham, Tippett, Berkeley, Searle, Walton]


Symphonic Suite ‘Gloriana’ (R. Devereux), T/ob ad lib, orch, 1953; Pears, CBSO, cond. R. Schwarz, Birmingham, 23 Sept 1954


Pas de six, from The Prince of the Pagodas, 1957; CBSO, cond. Schwarz, Birmingham, 26 Sept 1957


Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, 1963, rev. 1964 (1964)

Rostropovich, Moscow PO, cond. Britten, Moscow, 12 March 1964


The Building of the House (Bible: Ps cxxvii), ov., SATB/org/brass ad lib, orch, 1967 (1968)

East Anglian choirs, English Chamber Orchestra, cond. Britten, Snape Maltings, 2 June 1967


Suite on English Folk Tunes: ‘A time there was …’, 1974 (1976)

English Chamber Orchestra, cond. Bedford, Snape Maltings, 13 June 1975 [incl. Hankin Booby, 1966, written for opening of Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 1 March 1967]

See also Arrangements by others of Britten works

Instrumental ensemble

Night Mail (W.H. Auden), spkr, fl, ob, bn, tpt, 8 perc, vn, va, vc, db, 1935–6 (2000)

concert perf. Apollo Chamber Orchestra, cond. D. Chernaik, London, 7 Nov 1997 [orig. composed as film score]

Russian Funeral, brass and perc ens, 1936 (1981)

South London Brass Orchestra, cond. A. Bush, London, 8 March 1936

Fanfare [from Gloriana, 1953], tpts in multiples of 3; Herald Trumpeters of the Royal Artillery Band, Woolwich, Snape Maltings, 2 June 1967


Solo voices and chorus with orchestra

The Company of Heaven (compiled R.E. Roberts), spkrs, S, T, SATB, timp, org, str, 1937 (1990)

F. Aylmer, I. Dawson, S. Rome, S. Wyss, P. Pears, BBC Chorus and Orchestra, cond. T. Harvey, BBC, 29 Sept 1937 [orig. a radio feature]

Pacifist March (R. Duncan), chorus 2vv, orch, 1936–7 (1937)

The World of the Spirit (compiled R.E. Roberts), spkrs, S, C, T, B, SATB, orch, 1938 (2000)

Aylmer, L. Genn, R. Speaight, Wyss, A. Wood, E. Bebb, V. Harding, BBC Singers and Orchestra, cond. Harvey, BBC, 5 June 1938 [orig. a radio feature]


Ballad of Heroes (R. Swingler, W.H. Auden), T/S, chorus, orch, 1939 (vs 1939)

W. Widdop, 12 choruses, LSO, cond. Lambert, London, 5 April 1939


Saint Nicolas (E. Crozier), T, 4, Tr, SATB, SA, pf 4 hands, perc, org, str, 1947–8 (chorus score 1948, fs 1949)

Pears, Aldeburgh Festival Chorus, cond. L. Woodgate, Aldeburgh, 5 June 1948


Spring Symphony (various poets), S, C, T, mixed vv, boys’ vv, orch, 1948–9 (vs 1949, fs 1951)

J. Vincent, Ferrier, Pears, Dutch Radio Chorus, Concertgebouw Orchestra, cond. van Beinum, Amsterdam, 14 July 1949


Cantata academica, carmen basiliense (charter of Basle U. and other texts, compiled B. Wyss), S, A, T, B, chorus, orch, 1959 (vs 1959, fs 1960)

A. Giebel, E. Cavelti, Pears, H. Rehfuss, Basle Chamber Orchestra, cond. Sacher, Basle U., 1 July 1960


War Requiem (Missa pro defunctis, W. Owen), S, T, Bar, SATB, orch, chbr orch, boys’ vv, org, 1961–2 (1962)

Harper, Pears, Fischer-Dieskau, Coventry Festival Chorus, CBSO, cond. M. Davies, Melos Ensemble, cond. Britten, Coventry Cathedral, 30 May 1962


Cantata misericordium (P. Wilkinson), T, Bar, small chorus, str qt, str orch, pf, hp, timp, 1963 (chorus score 1963, fs 1964)

Pears, Fischer-Dieskau, Le Motet de Genève, Suisse Romande Orchestra, cond. Ansermet, Geneva, 1 Sept 1963


Welcome Ode (T. Dekker, J. Ford, H. Fielding, anon.), young people’s vv, orch, 1976 (1977)

Suffolk Schools’ Choir and Orchestra, cond. K. Shaw, Ipswich, 11 July 1977

Praise we Great Men (E. Sitwell), S, Mez, T, B, SATB, orch, 1976, orchd C. Matthews 1977 (2009); M. McLaughlin, Harper, Langridge, R. Jackson, Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra, cond. Rostropovich, Snape Maltings, 11 Aug 1985

Solo voice with orchestra

9 unpubd juvenilia

Quatre chansons françaises: 1 Nuits de juin (V. Hugo), 2 Sagesse (P. Verlaine), 3 L’enfance (Hugo), 4 Chanson d’automne (Verlaine)

high v, orch, 1928 (vs 1982, fs 1983)

Harper, English Chamber Orchestra, cond. Bedford, BBC, 30 March 1980


Our Hunting Fathers, sym. cycle: Prologue (W.H. Auden), 1 Rats away! (anon.), 2 Messalina (anon.), 3 Dance of Death (T. Ravenscroft), Epilogue and Funeral March (Auden); high v, orch, 1936 (vs 1936), rev. 1961 (fs 1964)

Wyss, LPO, cond. Britten, Norwich, 25 Sept 1936


Les illuminations (A. Rimbaud), high v, str, 1939 (1940)

Wyss, Boyd Neel Orchestra, cond. Neel, London, 30 Jan 1940

Now sleeps the crimson petal (Tennyson), T, hn, str, 1943 (1989, ed. C. Matthews)

N. Mackie, A. Civil, English Chamber Orchestra, cond. Bedford, London, 3 April 1987 [orig. composed as part of Serenade, op.31]


Serenade: Prologue, 1 Pastoral (C. Cotton), 2 Nocturne (Tennyson), 3 Elegy (W. Blake), 4 Dirge (anon., 15th century), 5 Hymn (B. Jonson), 6 Sonnet (J. Keats), Epilogue; T, hn, str orch, 1943 (1944)

Pears, D. Brain, cond. W. Goehr, London, 15 Oct 1943


Nocturne: Prometheus Unbound (P.B. Shelley), The Kraken (Tennyson), from The Wanderings of Cain (S.T. Coleridge), Blurt, Master Constable (T. Middleton), from The Prelude (W. Wordsworth), The Kind Ghosts (W. Owen), Sleep and Poetry (Keats), Sonnet 43 (W. Shakespeare); T, 7 obbl insts, str, 1958 (1959)

Pears, BBC SO, cond. Schwarz, Leeds, 16 Oct 1958


Phaedra (dramatic cant., R. Lowell, after J. Racine), Mez, perc, hpd, str, 1975 (vs 1977, fs 1992)

Baker, English Chamber Orchestra, cond. Bedford, Snape Maltings, 16 June 1976

See also Arrangements by Britten: folksongs

Chorus with instrumental ensemble or solo instrument

20 unpubd juvenilia

Three Two-Part Songs (W. de la Mare): The Ride-by-Nights, The Rainbow, The Ship of Rio; boys’/female vv, pf, 1932 (1932)

Carlyle Singers, pf Britten, cond. I. Lemare, London, 12 Dec 1932

Two Part-Songs: I Lov’d a Lass (G. Wither), Lift Boy (R. Graves); SATB, pf, 1932, rev. 1933 (1934)

cond. Lemare, London, 11 Dec 1933

Jubilate Deo, E♭ (Psalm c), SATB, org, 1934 (1984)

Winchester Cathedral Choir, J. Lancelot, cond. M. Neary, Winchester Cathedral, 4 March 1984

Te Deum, C (Bk of Common Prayer), Tr, SATB, org/(hp/pf, str), 1934 (1935), orchd 1936; M. Bartlett, St Michael’s Singers, G. Thalben-Ball, cond. H. Darke, London, 13 Nov 1935

May (anon.), unison vv, pf, 1934 (1935)

BBC, 24 June 1942

Rossini Suite [after Rossini]: 1 Allegro brillante, 2 Allegretto, 3 Allegretto, 4 Bolero, 5 Allegro con brio; boys’ vv, chbr ens, 1935 [nos.1, 2, 5 from film score, The Tocher, 1935; adaptation of nos.1, 2, 4 in Soirées musicales, op.9; reorch of no.3 in Matinées musicales. op.24]


Friday Afternoons, 12 children’s songs: 1 Begone, dull care (anon.), 2 A Tragic Story (W.M. Thackeray), 3 Cuckoo! (J. Taylor), 4 ‘Ee-Oh!’ (anon.), 5 A New Year Carol (anon.), 6 I mun be married on Sunday (N. Udall), 7 There was a man of Newington (anon.), 8 Fishing Song (I. Walton), 9 The Useful Plough (anon.), 10 Jazz-Man (E. Farjeon), 11 There was a monkey (anon.), 12 Old Abram Brown (anon.); children’s vv, pf, 1933–5 (1936)

St Felix School Choir, Southwold, cond. R. Railton, BBC, 18 May 1949 [Lone Dog (I.R. McLeod), orig. composed as part of group, pubd in appx of 1994 edn]


A Ceremony of Carols: 1 Procession, 2 Wolcum Yole! (anon.), 3 There is no rose (anon.), 4a That yongë child (anon.), 4b Balulalow (J., J. and R. Wedderburn), 5 As Dew in Aprille (anon.), 6 This Little Babe (R. Southwell), 7 Interlude, 8 In Freezing Winter Night (Southwell), 9 Spring Carol (W. Cornish), 10 Deo gracias (anon.), 11 Recession; Tr vv, hp, 1942, rev. 1943 (1943)

Fleet Street Choir, G. Mason, cond. T.B. Lawrence, Norwich Castle, 5 Dec 1942


Rejoice in the Lamb (festival cant., C. Smart), Tr, A, T, B, SATB, org, 1943 (1943)

Choir of St Matthew’s Church, Northampton, C. Barker, cond. Britten, Northampton, St Matthew, 21 Sept 1943

The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard (anon.), male vv, pf, 1943 (1952)

Chorus of Prisoners of War, B. Grayson and F. Henson, cond. R. Wood, Eichstätt, Germany, 20 Feb 1944


Festival Te Deum (Bk of Common Prayer), Tr, SATB, org, 1944 (1945)

P. Titcombe, Choir of St Mark’s, Swindon, G.W. Curnow, cond. J.J. Gale, Swindon, 24 April 1945


A Wedding Anthem (Amo ergo sum) (R. Duncan), S, T, SATB, org, 1949 (1950)

Cross, Pears, cond. Britten, London, 29 Sept 1949

Am stram gram (A. Roussin), (unison vv, pf)/SATB, 1954 (1973, in Tempo , no.107)

London, 4 March 1954 [orig. composed as theatre incid music]


Hymn to St Peter, Tr, SATB, org, 1955 (1955)

Norwich, 20 Nov 1955


Antiphon (G. Herbert), SATB, org, 1956 (1956)

Tenbury Wells, 29 Sept 1956


Missa brevis, D, boys’ vv, org, 1959 (choral score 1959, fs 1960)

Westminster Cathedral Choir, org and cond. Malcolm, London, 22 July 1959

Jubilate Deo, C (Ps c), SATB, org, 1961 (1961)

Choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, W. Harris, Windsor, 16 July 1961

Venite exultemus Domino (Ps xcv), SATB, org, 1961 (1983)

Westminster Abbey Choir, G. Morgan, cond. S. Preston, London, 2 Oct 1983

Corpus Christi Carol, arr. 1v/unison vv, pf/org, 1961 (1961) [from A Boy was Born, op.3, variation 5]

Fancie (W. Shakespeare), unison vv, pf, 1961, rev. 1965 (1965)

BBC, 2 March 1969


Psalm 150, children’s chorus 2vv, insts, 1962 (1963)

Old Buckenham Hall School Choir and ens, cond. K. Foster, Thorpe Morieux, 29 July 1962

A Hymn of St Columba: Regis regum rectissimi, SATB, org, 1962 (1963)

Ulster Singers, R.A. McGraw, cond. H. Nelson, Co. Donegal, 2 June 1963


Voices for Today, anthem (Virgil and others), mixed vv (men, women, children), org ad lib, 1965 (1965)

simultaneous premières in London, New York and Paris, 24 Oct 1965

The Oxen (‘Christmas eve, and twelve of the clock’) (T. Hardy), women’s chorus 2vv, pf, 1967 (1968)

East Coker Women’s Institute Choir, 25 Jan 1968


Children’s Crusade, ballad (B. Brecht, trans. H. Keller), children’s vv, perc, 2 pf, org, 1969 (chorus score 1970, fs 1972)

Wandsworth School Choir and Orchestra, cond. R. Burgess, London, 19 May 1969

Chorus unaccompanied

A Wealden Trio: the Song of the Women (F.M. Ford), carol, SSA, 1929–30, rev. 1967 (1968)

rev. version: Ambrosian Singers, cond. Ledger, Aldeburgh, 19 June 1968

A Hymn to the Virgin (anon., c 1300), anthem, SATB double chorus, 1930, rev. 1934 (1935)

Lowestoft, 5 Jan 1931

The Sycamore Tree (trad.), carol, SATB, 1930, rev. 1934, 1967 (1968)

Lowestoft, 5 Jan 1931; rev. version, Ambrosian Singers, cond. Ledger, Aldeburgh, 19 June 1968

Christ’s Nativity, Christmas suite: 1 Christ’s Nativity (H. Vaughan), 2 Sweet was the song (W. Ballet’s lute bk), 3 Preparations (Christ Church MS), 4 New Prince, New Pomp (Bible, R. Southwell), 5 Carol of King Cnut (C.W. Stubbs); S, C, SATB, 1931 (1994)

A. Barlow, A. Murray, Britten Singers, cond. S. Wilkinson, Southwold, 14 June 1991


A Boy was Born (15th- and 16th-century carols, C. Rossetti), choral variations, male vv, female vv, boys’ vv, 1932–3 (1934), rev. 1955, rev. with org ad lib 1957–8 (1958)

Wireless Chorus, Choirboys of St Mark’s, North Audley Street, cond. L. Woodgate, BBC, 23 Feb 1934

Advance Democracy (R. Swingler), SSAATTBB, 1938 (1939)

A.M.D.G. (G.M. Hopkins): 1 Prayer I, 2 Rosa mystica, 3 God’s Grandeur, 4 Prayer II, 5 O Deus, ego amo te, 6 The Soldier, 7 Heaven-Haven; SATB, 1939 (1989)

London Sinfonietta Chorus, cond. T. Edwards, London, 22 Aug 1984 [orig. op.17, but number reassigned to Paul Bunyan]


Hymn to St Cecilia (W.H. Auden), SSATB, 1941–2 (1942), rev. 1966 (1967)

BBC Singers, cond. Woodgate, BBC, 22 Nov 1942

A Shepherd’s Carol (Auden), SATB, 1944 (1962)

BBC Singers, cond. Woodgate, BBC, 24 Dec 1944 [orig. composed for radio feature, A Poet’s Christmas]

Chorale after an Old French Carol (Auden), SSAATTBB, 1944 (1992)

BBC Singers, cond. Woodgate, BBC, 24 Dec 1944 [orig. composed for radio feature, A Poet’s Christmas]

Deus in adjutorium meum [from incid music to This Way to the Tomb] (Ps lxx), SATB, 1945 (1983)

Elizabethan Singers, cond. L. Halsey, London, 26 Oct 1962


Five Flower Songs: 1 To Daffodils (R. Herrick), 2 The Succession of the Four Sweet Months (Herrick), 3 Marsh Flowers (G. Crabbe), 4 The Evening Primrose (J. Clare), 5 Ballad of Green Broom (anon.); SATB, 1950 (1951)

cond. I. Holst, Dartington, 23 July 1950

We are the darkness in the heat of the day [arr. of no.2 from The Heart of the Matter] (E. Sitwell), SMezATB, c 1956 (1997)

Sweet was the Song [rev. of Christ’s Nativity, no.2] (W. Ballet’s lute bk), carol, SSAA, 1966 (1966)

P. Stevens, Purcell Singers, cond. I. Holst, Aldeburgh, 15 June 1966

Alleluia! For Alec’s 80th Birthday, canon, 3-pt vv, 1971 (1972) [tribute to Alec Robertson]


Sacred and Profane (8 medieval lyrics), SSATB, 1974–5 (1977)

Wilbye Consort, cond. Pears, Snape Maltings, 14 Sept 1975

1–3 solo voices with 1 or 2 instruments

c 60 unpubd juvenilia

Beware! (3 early songs): 1 Beware! (H.W. Longfellow, after Ger. text), 2 O that I had ne’er been married (R. Burns), 3 Epitaph: The Clerk (H. Asquith); medium v, pf, 1922–6, rev. 1967–8 (1985)

Tit for Tat (5 settings from boyhood, W. de la Mare): 1 A Song of Enchantment, 2 Autumn, 3 Silver, 4 Vigil, 5 Tit for Tat; 1v, pf, 1928–31, rev. 1968 (1969)

Shirley-Quirk, Britten, Aldeburgh, 23 June 1969

The Birds (H. Belloc), medium v, pf, 1929–34 (1935)

Wyss, Britten, BBC, 13 March 1936

A Poison Tree (W. Blake), medium v, pf, 1935 (1994)

H. Herford, I. Brown, London, 22 Nov 1986

When you’re feeling like expressing your affection (? W.H. Auden), high v, pf, 1935–6 (1994)

L. Shelton, I. Brown, Blythburgh Church, 15 June 1992

Two Ballads: 1 Mother Comfort (M. Slater), 2 Underneath the abject willow (Auden); 2vv, pf, 1936 (1937)

Wyss, B. Bannerman, A Hallis, London, 15 Dec 1936

Johnny (cabaret song, Auden), 1v, pf, 1937 (1980)

H. Anderson, N. Franklin, BBC, 29 June 1949

Funeral Blues [from incid music to The Ascent of F6] (cabaret song, Auden), 1v, pf, 1937 (1980)

Pears, Britten, Long Island, NY, 14 Dec 1941

Not even summer yet (P. Burra), high v, pf, 1937 (1994)

N. Burra, G. Thorne, Berkshire, 3 Dec 1937


On This Island (5 songs, Auden): 1 Let the florid music praise!, 2 Now the leaves are falling fast, 3 Seascape, 4 Nocturne, 5 As it is, plenty; high v, pf, 1937 (1938)

Wyss, Britten, London, 19 Nov 1937

To lie flat on the back (Auden), high v, pf, 1937 (1997)

N. Mackie, J. Blakely, BBC, 23 April 1985

Night covers up the rigid land (Auden), high v, pf, 1937 (1997)

P. Rozario, G. Johnson, London, 22 Nov 1985

The sun shines down (Auden), high v, pf, 1937 (1997)

Fish in the unruffled lakes (Auden), high v, pf, 1938 (1997, ed. C. Matthews), rev. 1942–3 (1947)

Pears, Britten, London, 28 Feb 1943

The Red Cockatoo (A. Waley, after Po Chü-i), high v, pf, 1938 (1994)

Shelton, Brown, Snape Maltings, 17 June 1991

Tell me the Truth about Love (cabaret song, Auden), 1v, pf, 1938 (1980)

H. Anderson, D. Ibbott, BBC, 14 June 1949

A Cradle Song: Sleep, beauty bright (W. Blake), S, C, pf, 1938 (1994), V. Bell, K. Roland, J. West, Snape, 23 July 1994

Calypso (cabaret song, Auden), 1v, pf, 1939 (1980)

Pears, Britten, Long Island, NY, 14 Dec 1941


Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo: 1 Sonetto XVI: Sì come nella penna e nell’inchiostro, 2 Sonetto XXXI: A che più debb’io mai l’intensa voglia, 3 Sonetto XXX: Veggio co’ bei vostri occhi un dolce lume, 4 Sonetto LV: Tu sa’ ch’io so, signior mie, che tu sai, 5 Sonetto XXXVIII: Rendete a gli occhi miei, o fonte o fiume, 6 Sonetto XXXII: S’un casto amor, s’una pietà superna, 7 Sonetto XXIV: Spirto ben nato, in cui si specchia e vede; T, pf, 1940 (1943)

Pears, Britten, London, 23 Sept 1942

What’s in your mind? (Auden), high v, pf, 1941 (1997)

Underneath the abject willow (Auden), high v, pf, 1941 (1997) [recomposition of duet version in Two Ballads, 1936]

Wild with passion (T.L. Beddoes), high v, pf, 1942 (1994)

Shelton, Brown, Blythburgh Church, 15 June 1992

If thou wilt ease thine heart (Beddoes), high v, pf, 1942 (1994)

Shelton, Brown, Blythburgh Church, 15 June 1992

Cradle Song (Sleep, my darling, sleep) (L. MacNeice), high v, pf, 1942 (1994)

Shelton, Brown, Blythburgh Church, 15 June 1992


The Holy Sonnets of John Donne: 1 Oh my black Soule!, 2 Batter my heart, 3 Oh might those sighes and teares, 4 Oh, to vex me, 5 What if this present, 6 Since she whom I loved, 7 At the round earth’s imagined corners, 8 Thou hast made me, 9 Death, be not proud; high v, pf, 1945 (1947)

Pears, Britten, London, 22 Nov 1945

Evening, Morning, Night [from incid music to This Way to the Tomb] (R. Duncan), medium v, hp/pf, 1945 (1988)

Birthday Song for Erwin (R. Duncan), high v, pf, 1945 (1994)

C. Hobkirk, R. Jones, London, 22 Nov 1988


Canticle I ‘My beloved is mine’ (F. Quarles), high v, pf, 1947 (1950)

Pears, Britten, Westminster, 1 Nov 1947


A Charm of Lullabies: 1 A Cradle Song (Blake), 2 The Highland Balou (Burns), 3 Sephestia’s Lullaby (R. Greene), 4 A Charm (T. Randolph), 5 The Nurse’s Song (J. Philip); Mez, pf, 1947 (1949)

N. Evans, F. de Nobel, The Hague, 3 Jan 1948


Canticle II ‘Abraham and Isaac’ (Chester miracle play), A, T, pf, 1952 (1953)

Ferrier, Pears, Britten, Nottingham, 21 Jan 1952


Winter Words: Lyrics and Ballads of Thomas Hardy: 1 At Day-Close in November, 2 Midnight on the Great Western, 3 Wagtail and Baby, 4 The Little Old Table, 5 The Choirmaster’s Burial, 6 Proud Songsters, 7 At the Railway Station, Upway, 8 Before Life and After; high v, pf, 1953 (1954)

Pears, Britten, Leeds, 8 Oct 1953


Canticle III ‘Still Falls the Rain – the Raids, 1940, Night and Dawn’ (E. Sitwell), T, hn, pf, 1954 (1956)

Pears, D. Brain, Britten, London, 28 Jan 1955

Farfield 1928–30 (J. Lydgate), 1v, pf, 1955 (1955)

Three Songs from ‘The Heart of the Matter’ (E. Sitwell): 1 Prologue ‘Where are the seeds of the Universal Fire’, 2 Song ‘We are the darkness in the heat of the day’, 3 Epilogue ‘So, out of the dark’; T, hn, pf, 1956 (1994)

Pears, D. Brain, Britten, Aldeburgh, 21 June 1956


Songs from the Chinese (trans. A. Waley): 1 The Big Chariot (from The Bk of Songs), 2 The Old Lute (Po Chü-i), 3 The Autumn Wind (Wu-ti), 4 The Herd-Boy (Lu Yu), 5 Depression (Po Chü-i), 6 Dance Song (from the Bk of Songs); high v, gui, 1957 (1959)

Pears, Bream, Great Glemham, 17 June 1958


Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente: 1 Menschenbeifall, 2 Die Heimat, 3 Sokrates und Alcibiades, 4 Die Jugend, 5 Hälfte des Lebens, 6 Die Linien des Lebens; 1v, pf, 1958 (1963)

Pears, Britten, BBC, 14 Nov 1958

Um Mitternacht (J.W. von Goethe), high v, pf, ?1960 (1994)

Shelton, Brown, Blythburgh Church, 15 June 1992

Corpus Christi Carol, 1v, pf, 1961 (1961) [from A Boy was Born, op.3, variation 5]

The Ship of Rio [from Three Two-Part Songs, 1932] (W. de la Mare), arr. medium v, pf, 1963 (1964)


Songs and Proverbs of William Blake: Proverb I, London, Proverb II, The Chimney-Sweeper, Proverb III, A Poison Tree, Proverb IV, The Tyger, Proverb V, The Fly, Proverb VI, Ah, Sun-flower!, Proverb VII, Every Night and Every Morn; Bar, pf, 1965 (1965)

Fischer-Dieskau, Britten, Aldeburgh, 24 June 1965


The Poet’s Echo (A.S. Pushkin): 1 Echo, 2 My Heart, 3 Angel, 4 The Nightingale and the Rose, 5 Epigram, 6 Lines written during a sleepless night; high v, pf, 1965 (1967)

Vishnevskaya, Rostropovich, Moscow Conservatory, 2 Dec 1965


Who are these Children?: Lyrics, Rhymes and Riddles by William Soutar: 1 A Riddle (The Earth), 2 A Laddie’s Sang, 3 Nightmare, 4 Black Day, 5 Bed-time, 6 Slaughter, 7 A Riddle (The Child You Were), 8 The Larky Lad, 9 Who are these Children?, 10 Supper, 11 The Children, 12 The Auld Aik; T, pf, 1969 (1972)

Pears, Britten, Edinburgh, 4 May 1971 [Dawtie’s Devotion, The Gully and Tradition, orig. composed as part of cycle, pubd in appx of 1997 edn]


Canticle IV ‘The Journey of the Magi’ (T.S. Eliot), Ct, T, Bar, pf, 1971 (1972)

Bowman, Pears, Shirley-Quirk, Britten, Snape Maltings, 26 June 1971


Canticle V ‘The Death of Saint Narcissus’ (Eliot), T, hp, 1974 (1976)

Pears, Ellis, Schloss Elmau, Upper Bavaria, 15 Jan 1975


A Birthday Hansel (Burns): 1 Birthday Song, 2 My Early Walk, 3 Wee Willie Gray 4 My Hoggie, 5 Afton Water, 6 The Winter, 7 Leezie Lindsay; high v, hp, 1975 (1978)

Pears, Ellis, Schloss Elmau, Upper Bavaria, 11 Jan 1976

See also Arrangements by Britten: folksongs

opera excerpts prepared in Britten’s lifetime: choral
from Paul Bunyan, 1941

Inkslinger’s Love Song, T, TB, orch [removed from the opera 1974–5]

Lullaby of Dream Shadows, 2 S, 2 T, SATB, orch [removed from the opera 1941]

from Peter Grimes, 1945

Oh, hang at open doors the net, vv (2 pts), pf, 1965 (1967)

Old Joe has gone fishing, SATB, pf (1947)

Song of the Fishermen, SATB, pf (1947)

from The Little Sweep, 1949

Audience Songs, vv, pf (1950)

from Gloriana, 1953

Choral Dances, SATB (1954), BBC Midland Chorus, cond. J. Lowe, BBC, 7 March 1954

Choral Dances, T, SATB, hp, 1967 (1982), Pears, Ambrosian Singers, O. Ellis, cond. Britten, London 1 March 1967

from Noye’s Fludde, 1958

Tallis’s Canon, SATB, acc. (1967)

Eternal Father, strong to save, unison vv, kbd (1967)

See also Arrangements by Britten: folksongs and Arrangements by others of Britten works

Opera excerpts: Solo voice with accompaniment
from Paul Bunyan, 1941

Ballads, 1v, pf/gui, rev. and arr. 1974 (1978)

from Peter Grimes, 1945

Church Scene (Ellen’s aria), S, pf/orch (vs 1945)

Embroidery Aria, S, pf/orch (vs 1945)

Peter’s Dreams, T, pf/orch (vs 1945)

from The Rape of Lucretia, 1946

Flower Song, C, pf/orch (vs 1947)

The Ride, T, pf/orch (1947)

Slumber Song, S, pf/orch (1947)

from Gloriana, 1953

The Second Lute Song of the Earl of Essex (R. Devereux), arr. I. Holst, 1v, pf (1954), Pears, Britten, Aldeburgh, 28 June 1953

from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1960

Bottom’s Dream, op.64a, B-Bar, pf/orch (1965)

Other excerpts in opera aria volumes: soprano (1992), mezzo-soprano (1993), tenor (1996), baritone and bass-baritone (forthcoming)

Chamber and solo instrumental

For 3 or more instruments

c 50 unpubd juvenilia

String Quartet, F, 1928 (1999)

Sorrel Quartet, BBC, 21 Nov 1995

Rhapsody, str qt, 1929 (1989)

Alexandra Quartet, BBC, 6 Nov 1985

Quartettino, str qt, 1930 (1984)

Arditti Quartet, London Weekend Television, 15 May 1983

Movement, fl, ob, cl, b cl, bn, hn, 1930; Haffner Wind Ensemble, Aldeburgh, 11 June 1993

Rhapsodies, vn, va, pf, 1931

String Quartet, D, 1931, rev. 1974 (1975)

Gabrieli Quartet, Snape Maltings, 7 June 1975

Phantasy, str qnt, 1932 (1983)

London, 22 July 1932


Phantasy, ob, vn, va, vc, 1932 (1935)

L. Goossens, members of International String Quartet, BBC, 6 Aug 1933

Alla marcia, str qt, 1933 (1983)

Macnaghten String Quartet, London, 11 Dec 1933 [first conceived as 1st movt of 5-movt suite, Alla quartetto serioso: ‘Go play, boy, play’; rev. as Three Divertimenti, 1936; re-used and expanded in ‘Parade’ from Les illuminations, 1939]

Three Divertimenti: 1 March, 2 Waltz, 3 Burlesque; str qt, 1936 (1983)

Stratton Quartet, London, 25 Feb 1936 [rev. of earlier works; for derivation see Banks, B1999]


String Quartet no.1, D, 1941 (1942)

Coolidge String Quartet, Los Angeles, 21 Sept 1941


String Quartet no.2, C, 1945 (1946)

Zorian String Quartet, London, 21 Nov 1945

Scherzo, rec qt, 1954 (1955)

Aldeburgh, 26 June 1955

Alpine Suite, rec trio, 1955 (1956)

Aldeburgh, 26 June 1955

Fanfare for St Edmundsbury, 3 tpt, 1959 (1969)

Cathedral of Bury St Edmunds, 10 June 1959


Gemini Variations, fl, vn, pf 4 hands [2/4 players], 1965 (1966)

Z. and G. Jeney, Aldeburgh, 19 June 1965


String Quartet no.3, 1975 (1977)

Amadeus Quartet, Snape Maltings, 19 Dec 1976

For 1–2 instruments

c 150 unpubd juvenilia

Five Walztes [ sic ], pf, 1923–5, rev. 1969 (1970)

A. Peebles, BBC, 10 Feb 1971

Reflection, va, pf, 1930 (1997)

P. Dukes, S. Rahman, BBC, 28 Nov 1995

Elegy, va, 1930 (1985)

N. Imai, Snape Maltings, 22 June 1984

Three Character Pieces: 1 John, 2 Daphne, 3 Michael, pf, 1930 (1989)

S. Briggs, Chester, 28 July 1989

Fugue, A, pf, 1931 (1991)

Twelve Variations, pf, 1931 (1986)

M. Perahia, Snape Maltings, 22 June 1986


Holiday Diary, suite, pf, 1934 (1935)

B. Humby, London, 30 Nov 1934 [orig. title: Holiday Tales]

Two Insect Pieces: 1 The Grasshopper, 2 The Wasp, ob, pf, 1935 (1980)

J. Craxton, M. Wright, Manchester, 7 March 1979


Suite, vn, pf, 1934–5 (1935)

A. Brosa, Britten, BBC, 13 March 1936

Two Lullabies: 1 Lullaby, 2 Lullaby for a Retired Colonel, 2 pf, 1936 (1990)

P. Frankl, T. Vásáry, Snape Maltings, 22 June 1988

Theme for Improvisation, org, 1936 (1936)

A. Marchal, London, 12 Nov 1936

Temporal Variations, ob, pf, 1936 (1980)

N. Caine, A. Hallis, London, 15 Dec 1936

Reveille, concert study, vn, pf, 1937 (1983)

Brosa, F. Reizenstein, London, 12 April 1937

Moderato and Nocturne, pf, 1940 (1986), G. Benjamin, Aldeburgh, 16 June 1983 [movts 1 and 2 of Sonatina romantica]


Introduction and Rondo alla burlesca, 2 pf, 1940 (1944)

E. Bartlett, R. Robertson, New York, 5 Jan 1941


Mazurka elegiaca, 2 pf, 1941 (1942)

Bartlett, Robertson, New York, 9 Dec 1941

Village organists’ piece [unfinished], org, c1941–2 (2004), comp. C. Matthews

Untitled [Voluntary on ‘Tallis’ Lamentation’], org, c1941–2 (2004)

Themes for Improvisation, org, 1945 (1945)

M. Dupré, BBC, 24 July 1945

Prelude and Fugue on a Theme of Vittoria, org, 1946 (1952)

A. Wyton, Northampton, 21 Sept 1946


Lachrymae: Reflections on a Song of John Dowland, va, pf, 1950 (1951), rev. 1970 (1974)

W. Primrose, Britten, Aldeburgh, 20 June 1950 [see also orchestral , op.48a]


Six Metamorphoses after Ovid: 1 Pan, 2 Phaeton, 3 Niobe, 4 Bacchus, 5 Narcissus, 6 Arethusa, ob, 1951 (1952)

J. Boughton, Thorpeness, 14 June 1951


Sonata, C, vc, pf, 1960–61 (1961)

Rostropovich, Britten, Aldeburgh, 7 July 1961

Night Piece (Notturno), pf, 1963 (1963)

Leeds, 19 Sept 1963


Nocturnal after John Dowland: Reflections on ‘Come, heavy sleep’, gui, 1963 (1965)

J. Bream, Aldeburgh, 12 June 1964


Suite no.1, vc, 1964 (1966)

Rostropovich, Aldeburgh, 27 June 1965


Suite no.2, vc, 1967 (1969)

Rostropovich, Snape Maltings, 17 June 1968


Suite, hp, 1969 (1970)

Ellis, Aldeburgh, 24 June 1969


Suite no.3, vc, 1971, rev. 1974 (1976)

Rostropovich, Snape Maltings, 21 Dec 1974

Tema ‘Sacher’, vc, 1976 (1990), Rostropovich, Zürich, 2 May 1976

Concerto cadenzas
J. Haydn

Cello Concerto, C, h VIIb/I, 1964 (1966)

Rostropovich, Blythburgh Church, 18 June 1964 [cadenzas to movts 1 and 2]

W.A. Mozart

Piano Concerto, E♭, k 482, 1966 (1967)

Richter, Tours, France, July 1966 [cadenzas to movts 1 and 3]

Arrangements by Britten

  • Jennifer Doctor, Judith LeGrove, Paul Banks and Heather Wiebe
  • Jennifer Doctor ,Judith LeGrove ,Paul Banks and Heather Wiebe


1 or 2 voices with 1 or 2 instruments

listed as published volumes in order of publication date

Folk Song Arrangements, vol.i, British Isles

1 The Salley Gardens, 2 Little Sir William, 3 The Bonny Earl o’ Moray, 4 O can ye sew cushions?, 5 The trees they grow so high, 6 The Ash Grove, 7 Oliver Cromwell; high/medium v, pf, 1941–2 (1943)

Folk Song Arrangements, vol.ii, France

1 La Noël passée (The Orphan and King Henry), 2 Voici le printemps, 3 Fileuse, 4 Le roi s’en va-t’en chasse, 5 La belle est au jardin d’amour, 6 Il est quelqu’un sur terre, 7 Eho! Eho!, 8 Quand j’étais chez mon père (Heigh ho! heigh hi!); high/medium v, pf, 1942 (1946)

Folk Song Arrangements, vol.iii, British Isles

1 The Plough Boy, 2 There’s none to soothe, 3 Sweet Polly Oliver, 4 The Miller of Dee, 5 The Foggy, Foggy Dew, 6 O Waly, Waly, 7 Come you not from Newcastle?; high/medium v, pf, 1945–6 (1948)

Folk Song Arrangements, vol.iv, Moore’s Irish Melodies

1 Avenging and bright, 2 Sail on, sail on, 3 How sweet the answer, 4 The minstrel boy, 5 At the mid hour of night, 6 Rich and rare, 7 Dear harp of my country!, 8 Oft in the stilly night, 9 The Last Rose of Summer, 10 O the sight entrancing; high v, pf, 1957 (1960)

Folk Song Arrangements, vol.v, British Isles

1 The Brisk Young Widow, 2 Sally in our Alley, 3 The Lincolnshire Poacher, 4 Early one morning, 5 Ca’ the yowes; high v, pf, 1951–9 (1961)

Folk Song Arrangements,, England

1 I will give my love an apple, 2 Sailor-Boy, 3 Master Kilby, 4 The Soldier and the Sailor, 5 Bonny at Morn, 6 The Shooting of his Dear; high v, gui, 1956–8 (1961)

[Four English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians:] 1 Love Henry, 2 What’s Little Babies Made of? 3 The Maid Freed from the Gallows, 4 The Frog and the Mouse; pf acc., 1967 (1968)

Eight Folk Song Arrangements

1 Lord! I married me a wife, 2 She’s like the swallow, 3 Lemady, 4 Bonny at Morn, 5 Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn (I was lonely and forlorn), 6 David of the White Rock, 7 The False Knight upon the Road, 8 Bird Scarer’s Song; high v, hp, 1976 (1980)

Tom Bowling and Other Song Arrangements

for 1v, pf: 1 Tom Bowling [arr. of song and text by C. Dibdin], c 1959, 2 Greensleeves, ?1941, 3 The Crocodile, c 1941, 4 Pray Goody, ?1945–6, 5 The holly and the ivy, 6 I wonder as I wander [arr. of song collected by J.J. Niles], ?1940–41, 7 Dink’s Song; for 2vv, pf: 8 Soldier, won’t you marry me?, c 1958, 9 The Deaf Woman’s Courtship; for 1v, vc, pf: 10 The Stream in the Valley (Da unten im Tale), c 1946; (2000)

Solo voice with orchestra

The Salley Gardens [vol.i/1], high v, str, 1942 (2000)

Pears, New London Orchestra, cond. A. Sherman, London, 13 Dec 1942

The Salley Gardens [vol.i/1], high/medium v, bn/vc, hp/pf, str, c 1955 (2000)

Little Sir William [vol.i/2], high v, orch, 1942 (2000)

Pears, New London Orchestra, cond. Sherman, London, 13 Dec 1942

The Bonny Earl o’ Moray [vol.i/3], high v, orch, 1942 (2000)

Pears, New London Orchestra, cond. Sherman, London, 13 Dec 1942

O can ye sew cushions? [vol.i/4], high v, orch, 1944 (2000)

H. Cook, BBC Midland Light Orchestra, cond. R. Jenkins, BBC, 6 Nov 1944

Oliver Cromwell [vol.i/7], high v, orch, 1942 (2000)

Pears, New London Orchestra, cond. Sherman, London, 13 Dec 1942

La Noël passée [vol.ii/1], 1v, str (2000)

Five French Folk Songs

1 Fileuse, 2 Le roi s’en va-t’en chasse, 3 La belle est au jardin d’amour, 4 Eho! Eho!, 5 Quand j’étais chez mon père [vol.ii/3, 4, 5, 7, 8]; Bar, orch, 1945–6 (2000)

M. Singher, Chicago SO, cond. Busch, Chicago, 23 Dec 1948

The Plough Boy [vol.iii/1], high v, orch, 1946 (2000)

O Waly, Waly [vol.iii/6], high v, str (2000)

Come you not from Newcastle? [vol.iii/7], high v, orch, ?1959 (2000)


The Salley Gardens [vol.i/1], unison vv, pf (1955)

Chorus and Orchestra of the Schools Music Association, cond. Boult, London, 6 May 1956

Oliver Cromwell [vol.i/7], unison vv, pf (1959)

The holly and the ivy, SATB, 1957 (1957)

Haddo House Choral Society, cond. J. Gordon, BBC, 22 Dec 1957

King Herod and the Cock, unison vv, pf, 1962 (1965)

London Boy Singers, Britten, Aldeburgh 16 June 1962

The Twelve Apostles, T, unison vv, pf, 1962 (1981), London Boy Singers, Britten, Aldeburgh 16 June 1962

Purcell realizations and editions

in order of date of arrangement unless otherwise stated

Instrumental ensemble

The Golden Sonata, z 810, 2 vn, vc, pf, 1945 (1946)

O. Zorian, M. Lavers, N. Semino, Britten, London, 21 Nov 1945

Chacony, g, z 730, str qt/str orch, 1947–8, rev. 1963 (1965)

Collegium Musicum Zürich, cond. Britten, Zürich, 30 Jan 1948

Solo vocal

(realized and edited by Britten and Pears)

Orpheus Britannicus (with orchestra)
Suite of Songs from Orpheus Britannicus

1 Let sullen discord smile, z 321/6 (from Tate: Birthday Song for Queen Mary ), 2 Why should men quarrel?, z 630/4d (from Dryden and Howard: The Indian Queen ), 3 So when the glittering Queen of Night, z 333/11 (from D’Urfey: The Yorkshire Feast Song ), 4 Thou tun’st this world, z 328/6 (from N. Brady: A Song for St Cecilia’s Day) , 5a ‘Tis holiday , z 321/5 (from Tate: Birthday Song for Queen Mary ), 5b Sound Fame thy brazen trumpet, z 627/22 (from T. Betterton and Dryden: Dioclesian ); high v, orch, 1946 (1956)

Three Songs

1 Hark the ech’ing air!, z 629/48b (anon., from The Fairy Queen), 2 Not all my torments, z 400 (anon.), 3 Take not a woman’s anger ill, z 609/11 (from Gould: The Rival Sisters ); high v, orch, 1963

Orpheus Britannicus (with piano)
Five Songs

1 I attempt from Love’s sickness to fly, z 630/17h (from J. Dryden and R. Howard: The Indian Queen ), 2 I take no pleasure, z 388 (anon.), 3 Hark the ech’ing air!, z 629/48b (anon. from The Fairy Queen), 4 Take not a woman’s anger ill, z 609/11 (from R. Gould: The Rival Sisters ), 5 How blest are shepherds, z 628/15b (from Dryden: King Arthur ); high v, pf, 1939–59 (1960)

Seven Songs

1 Fairest Isle, z 628/38 (from Dryden: King Arthur ), 2 If music be the food of love, z 379C (H. Heveningham), 3 Turn then thine eyes, z 425 (anon.), 4 Music for a while, z 583/2 (from Dryden: Oedipus ), 5 Pious Celinda, z 410 (W. Congreve), 6 I’ll sail upon the Dog-star, z 571/6 (from T. D’Urfey: A Fool’s Preferment ), 7 On the Brow of Richmond Hill, z 405 (D’Urfey); high/medium v, pf, 1943–5 (1947)

Six Duets

1 Sound the trumpet, z 323/3 (? from N. Tate: Birthday Song for Queen Mary ), 2 I spy Celia, z 499 (anon.), 3 Lost is my quiet, z 502 (anon.), 4 What can we poor females do?, z 518 (anon.), 5 No, resistance is but vain, z 601/2a (A. Henly), 6 Shepherd, leave decoying, z 628/16b (from Dryden: King Arthur ); high and low vv, pf, 1945–?1954 (1961)

Six Songs

1 Mad Bess, z 370 (anon.), 2 If music be the food of love, z 379A (Heveningham), 3 There’s not a swain of the plain, z 587 (Henly), 4 Not all my torments, z 400 (anon.), 5 Man is for the woman made, z 605/3 (P.A. Motteux), Sweeter than roses, z 585/1 (from R. Norton: Pausanius ); high/medium v, pf, 1943–5 (1947)

Harmonia sacra

The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation, z 196 (N. Tate), high v, pf, 1944 (1947)

Saul and the Witch at Endor, z 134 (anon.), S, T, B, pf, 1945 (1947)

Job’s Curse, z 191 (J. Taylor), high v, pf, 1948 (1950)

Three Divine Hymns

1 Lord, what is man?, z 192 (W. Fuller), 2 We sing to Him, z 199 (N. Ingelo), 3 Evening Hymn, z 193 (Fuller); high/medium v, pf, 1944–5 (1947)

Two Divine Hymns and Alleluia

1 A Morning Hymn, z 198 (Fuller), 2 Alleluia, z S14 (J. Weldon), 3 In the black dismal dungeon of despair, z 190 (Fuller); high v, pf, 1944–59 (1960)

Odes and Elegies

The Queen’s Epicedium, z 383 (Herbert), high v, pf, 1944 (1946)

Other solo vocal

listed as published volumes in order of publication date

When night her purple veil, z D201 (secular cant., anon.), Bar, 2 vn, continuo, 1965 (1977)

Let the dreadful engines of eternal will, z 578/3 (T. D’Urfey), Bar/T, pf, 1971 (1993)

A Miscellany of Songs

1 The Knotting Song, z 371 (C. Sedley), high/medium v, pf, 1939, 2 O solitude, z 306 (K. Philips), high/medium v, pf, 1955, 3 Celemene, pray tell me, z 584 (D’Urfey), S, T, pf, 1946, 4 Dulcibella, whene’er I sue for a kiss, z 485 (A. Henly), S/T, B, pf, 1971, 5 When Myra sings, z 521 (G. Granville), S/T, B, pf, 1971 (1993)

Three Purcell Realizations

1 Dialogue of Corydon and Mopsa, z 629/22 (anon., from The Fairy Queen), 2vv, pf, 1950, 2 In these delightful, pleasant groves, z 600/1d (T. Shadwell), S, C, T, B, pf, 1968, 3 You twice ten-hundred deities, z 630.13a (J. Dryden, R. Howard), Bar, vn, vc, pf, 1948 (2003)

See also stage : Purcell realizations

Other arrangements

in order of date of arrangement

Orchestra, vocal-orchestral
E. Carpenter

England Arise! (opt. text: Carpenter), orch, vv ad lib, ?1939 (1939)

G. Mahler

What the Wild Flowers Tell me [arr. of Sym. no.3, movt 2], red. orch, 1941 (1950)

BBC Scottish Orchestra, cond. G. Warrack, BBC, 14 Nov 1942

F. Schubert

The Trout [arr. of Die Forelle d 550] (C.F.D. Schubart, Eng. trans.), 1v, 2 cl, str, 1942

R. Schumann

Spring Night [arr. of Frühlingsnacht, op.39 no.2] (F. Eichendorff, Eng. trans.), 1v, orch, 1942

God Save the Queen, orch, 1971

English Chamber Orchestra, cond. Britten, Snape Maltings, 13 June 1971


The National Anthem, double SATB, orch, 1961 (vs 1961), red. orch 1967

Leeds Festival Chorus, Royal Liverpool PO, cond. Pritchard, Leeds, 7 Oct 1961

J.S. Bach

St John Passion [arr. of bwv 245], ed. Britten and I. Holst (trans. Pears and I. Holst), S, Mez, T, B, SATB, 2 fl, 2 ob + ob d’amore, bn, org, lute, str, 1967; cond. Britten, London, 26 July 1967

Solo vocal
F. Schubert

Gretchens Bitte [completion of d 564] (from J.W. von Goethe: Faust , pt I, trans. A. Porter), version 1: S, pf, 1938 (1998), M. Blyth, BBC, 27 Dec 1938; version 2: high v, pf, c 1942, Pears, Britten, 1943

C. Dibdin

Tom Bowling (Dibdin), high v, pf, 1959 (2000)

Pears, Britten, Aldeburgh, 22 June 1959

J.S. Bach

Five Spiritual Songs [arr. of songs from Geistliche Lieder] (trans. Pears): 1 Gedenke doch, mein Geist, zurücke, bwv 509, 2 Kommt, Seelen, dieser Tag, bwv 479, 3 Liebster Herr Jesu, bwv 484, 4 Komm, süsser Tod, bwv 478, 5 Bist du bei mir, bwv 508; high v, pf, 1969 (1971)

Pears, Britten, Blythburgh Church, 18 June 1969

J. Blow

Oh! that mine eyes would melt (anon.), high v, hp/pf, 1975 (1998)

Pears, O. Ellis, Cardiff, 19 March 1976

J. Clarke

A Divine Hymn (Blest be those sweet regions) (anon.), high v, hp/pf, 1975–6 (1998)

W. Croft

A Hymn on Divine Musick (anon.), high v, hp/pf, 1976 (1998)

Pears, Ellis, Cardiff, 19 March 1976

P. Humfrey

Hymn to God the Father (J. Donne), high v, hp/pf, 1975–6 (1998)

Pears, Ellis, 20 Aug 1976


Lord! I have sinned (J. Taylor), high v, hp/pf, 1975–6 (1998)

F. Bridge

There is a Willow Grows Aslant a Brook [arr. of orch work, h 173], va, pf, 1932 (1990)

N. Imai, R. Vignoles, Isle of Man, 27 Aug 1988

See also stage : realizations and completions

Arrangements by others of Britten works

  • Jennifer Doctor, Judith LeGrove, Paul Banks and Heather Wiebe
  • Jennifer Doctor ,Judith LeGrove ,Paul Banks and Heather Wiebe

Orchestral, vocal-orchestral

Love from a Stranger

Music from the Film [1936], transcr. C. Matthews, orch, c 1995 (2000)

BBC Concert Orchestra, cond. C. Davis, London, 20 May 1995

Temporal Variations [1936], arr. C. Matthews, ob, str orch, c 1994 (1995)

N. Daniel, English Chamber Orchestra, cond. S. Bedford, Snape Maltings, 12 June 1994

Suite, from King Arthur [1937], arr. P. Hindmarsh, orch, c 1995 (1996)

RAM SO, cond. L. Köhler, Snape Maltings, 21 Oct 1995 [orig. composed as radio incid music]

Concert Suite, from The Sword in the Stone [1939], arr. O. Knussen and C. Matthews, chamber ens, c 1983 (1989)

Aldeburgh Festival Chamber Ensemble, cond. O. Knussen, Snape Maltings, 14 June 1983 [orig. composed as radio incid music]

Suite, from Johnson over Jordan [1939], arr. P. Hindmarsh, orch, c 1990 (1993)

Northern Sinfonia, cond. O. de la Martinez, BBC, 25 Feb 1990 [orig. composed as theatre incid music]

The Rescue of Penelope

concert version of the music to the radio drama The Rescue [1943] (E. Sackville-West, after Homer: Odyssey ), arr. C. de Souza with D. Mitchell and C. Matthews, spkr, S, Mez, T, Bar, orch (1998)

BBC SO, cond. N. Cleobury, Snape Maltings, 23 Oct 1993

A Charm of Lullabies [1947], arr. C. Matthews, Mez, orch; M. Forrester, Indianapolis SO, cond. R. Leppard, Indianapolis, 17 Jan 1991

Five Courtly Dances, from Gloriana [1953], arr. D. Stone, school orch, 1963 (1965) [arr. of 3rd movt of Symphonic Suite, op.53a]

Prelude and Dances, from The Prince of the Pagodas [1956], arr. N. Del Mar, op.57b, orch, c 1963 (1980)

BBC Scottish Orch, cond. Del Mar, BBC, 26 Dec 1963

Suite, from The Prince of the Pagodas [1956], arr. D. Mitchell and M. Cooke, orch, c 1997

Deutsches SO Berlin, cond. V. Ashkenazy, Amsterdam, 4 June 1997

Suite, from Death in Venice [1973], arr. S. Bedford, op.88a, orch, c 1984 (1993)

English Chamber Orchestra, cond. S. Bedford, Snape Maltings, 13 June 1984

Welcome Suite, from Welcome Ode [1976], arr. T. Osborne, str orch (1994)


Russian Funeral [1936], arr. R. Farr, brass band (1987)

Grimethorpe Colliery Band, cond. Farr, Framlingham, 15 June 1984

Soirées musicales [1936], arr. T. Conway Brown, military band (1946)

Spider and the Fly, from Johnson over Jordan [1939], arr. D. Barry, brass band (1993)

cond. P. Hindmarsh, Spenmoor, Co. Durham, 18 Nov 1990

Paul Bunyan Overture [1941], arr. C. Fussell, concert band (1985)

The Courtly Dances, from Gloriana [1953], arr. J. Bach, sym. band (1995)

The Building of the House [1967] (opt. text: Ps cxxvii), arr. T. Marciniak, concert band, SATB ad lib (1977)

The Courtly Dances, from Gloriana [1953], arr. N. Hall, brass band (2002)


Friday Afternoons [1935], arr. H. Tircuit, SSA, orch

Old Abram Brown, from Friday Afternoons [1935], arr. SATB, pf (1947?)

Five Choruses, from Paul Bunyan [1941]

1 Prologue I, 2 Prologue II, 3 Blues, 4 Hymn, 5 Litany; arr. SATB, pf (1978)

Carry her over the water, from Paul Bunyan [1941], arr. C. Matthews, SSATTBB (1980)

A Ceremony of Carols [1942], arr. J. Harrison, SATB, hp/pf (1948)

Rejoice in the Lamb [1943], arr. I. Holst, Tr, A, T, B, SATB, org, orch; A. Deller, P. Pears, T. Anthony, org R. Downes, Aldeburgh Festival Choir and Orchestra, cond. I. Holst, Aldeburgh, 20 June 1952

Rejoice in the Lamb [1943], arr. E. Walters, SSAA, org (1973)

Liverpool, 3 July 1966

Agnus Dei, from War Requiem [1962], arr. P. Brunelle, T, SATB, org (1989)

O can ye sew cushions?, arr. I. Holst, SSA, pf (1955)

Three Folk Songs

1 The Bonnie Earl O’Moray [ sic ], 2 The Salley Gardens, 3 Oliver Cromwell; arr. E. Walters, TTBB, pf (1986)

Solo vocal

Funeral Blues from The Ascent of F6 [1937], Johnny [1937], Tell me the Truth about Love [1938] and Calypso [1939]: arr. D. Runswick, female v, a sax, tpt, perc, vn, db; Aldeburgh, 8 June 1990

The Salley Gardens [vol.i/1], The Foggy, Foggy Dew [vol.iii/5], O Waly, Waly [vol.iii/6], The Lincolnshire Poacher [vol.v/3]; arr. G. Nestor, 1v, gui (1984)

Four Burns Songs, from A Birthday Hansel [1975], arr. C. Matthews, high v, pf (1978)

Eight Folk Song Arrangements [1976], arr. C. Matthews, medium v, pf (1980)

Chamber and solo instrumental

Playful Pizzicato and Sentimental Saraband, from Simple Symphony [1934], arr. H. Ferguson, pf 4 hands (1972)

Soirées musicales [1936], arr. B. Easdale, 2 pf (1938)

The Clock on the Wall, from On the Frontier [1938], arr. D. Runswick, a sax, tpt, perc, pf, vn, db; Aldeburgh, 8 June 1990

Spider and the Fly, from Johnson over Jordan [1939], arr. D. Runswick, a sax, tpt, perc, pf, vn, db; Aldeburgh, 8 June 1990

Blues, from Paul Bunyan [1941], arr. D. Runswick, a sax, tpt, perc, pf, vn, db; Aldeburgh, 8 June 1990

This Little Babe, from A Ceremony of Carols [1942], arr. C. Norton, pf (1989)

Boogie-Woogie, from This Way to the Tomb [1945], arr. D. Runswick, a sax, tpt, perc, pf, vn, db; Aldeburgh, 8 June 1990

Theme, from The Young Person’s Guide [1945], arr. C. Norton, pf (1989)

Theme, from The Young Person’s Guide [1945], arr. R. Brison, pf 4 hands (1990)

Morris Dance, from Gloriana [1953], arr. I. Holst, 2 descant rec (1957)

March, from Gloriana [1953], arr. I. Holst, descant rec (1959)

Concord, from Gloriana [1953], arr. C. Norton, pf (1989)

Most MSS at GB-ALb

Principal publishers: Boosey &Hawkes, Faber, OUP, Chester

For further details see Banks (B1999)


† repr. in Britten on Music (Oxford, 2003)

  • ‘“As You Like It”: Walton’s Music’, World Film News , 1/7 (1936), 46 only†
  • ‘An English Composer sees America’, Tempo [New York], 1/2 (1940), 1–3†
  • ‘England and the Folk-Art Problem’, MM , 18 (1941), 71–5†
  • ‘Au revoir to the U.S.A.’, MM , 19 (1942), 100–1†
  • ‘On Behalf of Gustav Mahler’, Tempo [New York], 2/2 (1942), 5 only; repr. in Tempo [London], no.120 (1977), 14–15†
  • ‘Conversation with Benjamin Britten’, Tempo , no.6 (1944), 4–5†
  • ‘Introduction’, Peter Grimes , ed. E. Crozier (London, 1945), 7–8
  • with M. Tippett : 250th Anniversary of the Death of Henry Purcell: Homage (London, 1945)
  • ‘How to Become a Composer’, The Listener (7 Nov 1946)
  • ‘Foreword’, The Rape of Lucretia: a Symposium , ed. E. Crozier (London, 1948), 7–8
  • ‘A Note on the Spring Symphony’, Music Survey , 2 (1949–50), 237 only
  • ‘How I Became a Composer’, The Radio Listener’s Week-End Book (London, n.d.), 108–12
  • ‘Freeman of Lowestoft’, Tempo , no.21 (1951), 3–5†
  • ‘Verdi: a Symposium’, Opera , 2 (1951), 113–15†
  • ‘A Composer in our Time’, Adam International Review , nos.224–6 (1952), 14–16
  • ‘Variations on a Critical Theme’, Opera , 3 (1952), 144–6†
  • ‘Three Premieres’, Kathleen Ferrier: a Memoir , ed. N. Cardus (London, 1954), 54–61
  • with I. Holst : The Story of Music (London, 1958/ R 1968 as The Wonderful World of Music )
  • ‘Dennis Brain (1921–1957)’, Tempo , new ser., no.46 (1958), 5–6†
  • ‘On Realizing the Continuo in Purcell’s Songs’, Henry Purcell: 1659–1695 , ed. I. Holst (London, 1959), 7–13
  • ‘On Writing English Opera’, Opera , 12 (1961), 7–8†
  • Speech on receiving an honorary degree from Hull University, London Magazine , new ser., 3/7 (1963), 89–91
  • ‘Britten Looking Back’, Sunday Telegraph (17 Nov 1963); repr. in Musical America , no.84 (1964), 4–6†
  • On Receiving the First Aspen Award (London,1964/ R )
  • ‘A Composer in Russia’, Sunday Telegraph (24 Oct 1965) †
  • ‘Tributes and Reminiscences’, Michael Tippett: a Symposium on his 60th Birthday , ed. I. Kemp (London, 1965), 29–30
  • ‘Early Influences: a Tribute to Frank Bridge’, Composer , no.19 (1966), 2–3
  • ‘Frank Bridge (1879–1941)’, Faber Music News (1966), aut., 17–20
  • ‘Britten on Aldeburgh and the Future’, Opera (1967), festival issue, 7–9†
  • ‘No Ivory Tower’, ON , 33/23 (1968–9), 8–11†
  • ‘Some Notes on Forster and Music’, Aspects of E.M. Forster: Essays and Recollections Written for his Ninetieth Birthday , ed. O. Stallybrass (London, 1969), 81–6
  • ‘“Oedipus Rex” and “Lady Macbeth”’, Tempo , no.120 (1977), 11–12
  • Britten on Music , ed. P. Kildea (Oxford, 2003)
  • A Christmas Sequence , with intro. by A. Plant (Llandago, 2008)


A: Letters and diaries
  • L. Foreman : From Parry to Britten: British Music in Letters 1900–1945 (London, 1987)
  • D. Mitchell , P. Reed and M. Cooke , eds.: Letters from a Life: Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten (vols. i–iii, London, 1991–2004; vols. iv–v, Woodbridge, 2008–2012)
  • J.K. Law : ‘“I must get a better composer … but how?”: the Early Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten’, OQ , 9/2 (1992), 31–51
  • D. Mitchell : ‘Schoenberg in Lowestoft: a Chronology Compiled from Britten’s Pocket Diaries (1928–1939)’, Sundry Sorts of Music Books: Essays on the British Library Collections Presented to O.W. Neighbour , ed. C. Banks , A. Searle and M. Turner (London, 1993), 354–62
  • P. Reed , ed.: The Travel Diaries of Peter Pears (1936–1978) (Woodbridge, 1995/ R )
  • C. Grogan , ed.,: Imogen Holst: a Life in Music (Woodbridge, 2010)
  • J. Evans , ed.: Journeying Boy: the Diaries of the Young Benjamin Britten 1928–1938 (London, 2009)
B: Catalogues of works and source books
  • Benjamin Britten: a Complete Catalogue of his Works (London, 1963, 2/1973)
  • J. Evans , P. Reed and P. Wilson : A Britten Source Book (Aldeburgh and Winchester, 1987/ R )
  • C.H. Parsons : A Benjamin Britten Discography (Dyfed, 1990)
  • B. Ford , ed.: Benjamin Britten’s Poets: the Poetry he Set to Music (Manchester, 1994, 2/1996)
  • P. Hodgson : Benjamin Britten: a Guide to Research (New York, 1996)
  • P. Banks and others, compilers: Benjamin Britten: a Catalogue of the Published Works (Aldeburgh,1999)
  • S. Craggs : Benjamin Britten: a Bio-Bibliography (Westport, 2002)
  • Britten Thematic Catalogue , Britten-Pears Foundation
C: Life
  • G. Cockshott : ‘English Composer Goes West’, MT , 82 (1941), 308 only
  • E.W. White : Benjamin Britten: a Sketch of his Life and Works (London, 1948, 2/1954; Ger. trans., 1948)
  • A. Gishford , ed.: Tribute to Benjamin Britten on his Fiftieth Birthday (London, 1963)
  • R.M. Schafer : ‘Benjamin Britten’, British Composers in Interview (London, 1963), 113–24
  • M. Tippett : ‘Benjamin Britten: a Birthday Tribute’, Composer , no.12 (1963), 6–7
  • S. Lazarov : Bendzhamin Britten (Sofiya, 1965)
  • A. Tauragis : Bendzhamin Britten (Moscow, 1965)
  • I. Holst : Britten (London, 1966, 3/1980)
  • M. Hurd : Benjamin Britten (London, 1966)
  • P.M. Young : Benjamin Britten (London, 1966)
  • E.W. White : Benjamin Britten: his Life and Operas (London, 1970, 2/1983)
  • R. Blythe , ed.: Aldeburgh Anthology (Aldeburgh, 1972)
  • A. Kendall : Britten (London, 1973)
  • L. Kovnatskaya : Bendzhamin Britten (Moscow, 1974)
  • M. Tippett : ‘A Tribute to Benjamin Britten’, The Listener (16 Dec 1976); repr. in About the House , 5/2 (1977), 56–7
  • I. Holst : ‘Working for Benjamin Britten’, MT , 118 (1977), 202–6
  • D. Mitchell and J. Evans , eds.: Benjamin Britten, 1913–1976: Pictures from a Life (London, 1978)
  • ‘Peter Pears Talks about Benjamin Britten’, Keynote , 2/2 (1978), 6–15
  • A. Blyth : Remembering Britten (London, 1981)
  • R. Duncan : Working with Britten: a Personal Memoir (Bideford, 1981)
  • C. Headington : Britten (London, 1981, 2/1996)
  • M. Kennedy : Britten (London, 1981, 2/1993)
  • G. Schmiedel : Benjamin Britten: für Sie porträtiert (Leipzig, 1983)
  • T. Bray : ‘Frank Bridge and his “Quasi-Adopted Son”’, MR , 45 (1984), 135–8
  • D. Mitchell : ‘Outline Model for a Biography of Benjamin Britten’, Festschrift Albi Rosenthal , ed. R. Elvers (Tutzing, 1984), 239–51
  • M. Thorpe , ed.: Peter Pears: a Tribute on his 75th Birthday (London, 1985)
  • Beth Britten : My Brother Benjamin (Bourne End, 1986)
  • P. Evans : ‘Benjamin Britten’, The New Grove Twentieth-Century English Masters , ed. S. Sadie (London, 1986), 237–96
  • S. Bedford : ‘Composer and Conductor: Annals of a Collaboration’, OQ , 4/3 (1986–7), 60–74
  • H. Carpenter : Benjamin Britten: a Biography (London, 1992)
  • N. Evans and E. Crozier : ‘After Long Pursuit’, OQ , 10/3 (1993–4), 5–17
  • M. Saremba : ‘Und wo bleibt das Positive, Herr Britten? Benjamin Britten (1913–76)’, Elgar, Britten &Co.: eine Geschichte der britischen Musik in zwölf Portraits (Zürich, 1994), 275–318
  • X. de Gaulle : Benjamin Britten, ou L’impossible quiétude (1996)
  • M. Oliver : Benjamin Britten (London, 1996)
  • H. Metzelaar : ‘Who Sent Benjamin Britten Hundreds of Eggs from Holland?’, Key Notes , 31/3 (1997), 17–21
  • J. Wake-Walker , ed.: Time &Concord: Aldeburgh Festival Recollections (Saxmundham, 1997)
  • M. Garnham : As I Saw it: Basil Douglas, Benjamin Britten and the English Opera Group 1955–1957: a Personal Memoir (London, 1998)
  • P. Reed : ‘Poulenc, Britten, Aldeburgh: a Chronicle’, Francis Poulenc: Music, Art, and Literature , ed. S. Buckland and M. Chimènes (Aldershot, 1999), 348–62
  • X. De Gaulle : Britten, ou, L’impossible quietude (Arles, 1999)
  • L. Kovnatskaya : ‘Shostakovich and Britten: Some Parallels’, Shostakovich in Context , ed. R. Bartlett (Oxford, 2000), 175–89
  • D. Matthews : Britten (London, 2003)
  • D. Felsenfeld : Benjamin Britten and Samuel Barber: Their Lives and Their Music (Swavesey, 2005)
  • S. Tippins : February House (Boston, 2005)
  • J. Bridcut : Britten’s Children (London, 2006)
  • M. Clary : Benjamin Britten, ou Le mythe de l’enfance (Paris, 2006)
  • N. Abels : Benjamin Britten (Reinbek, 2008)
  • J. Bridcut : Britten (London, 2010)
  • L. Walker : Britten in Pictures (Woodbridge, 2012)
  • P. Kildea : Benjamin Britten: a Life in the Twentieth Century (London, 2013)
  • N. Powell : Benjamin Britten: a Life for Music (New York, 2013)
D: Criticism
  • N. Lopatnikoff : ‘England’s Young Composers’, MM , 14 (1936–7), 204–7
  • H. Boys : ‘The Younger English Composers, v: Benjamin Britten’, MMR , 68 (1938), 234–7
  • J.A. Westrup : ‘The Virtuosity of Benjamin Britten’, The Listener , 28 (1942), 93
  • C. Mason : ‘Britten: Another View’, MMR , 73 (1943), 153
  • S. Goddard : ‘Benjamin Britten’, British Music of Our Time , ed. A.L. Bacharach (Harmondsworth, 1946), 209–18
  • H. Keller : ‘Britten and Mozart: a Challenge in the Form of Variations on an Unfamiliar Theme’, ML , 29 (1948), 17–30
  • C. Mason : ‘Benjamin Britten’, MT , 89 (1948), 73–5, 107–10, 139–42
  • H. Keller : ‘Resistances to Britten’s Music: their Psychology’, Music Survey , 2 (1949–50), 227–36; repr. in Music Survey: New Series, 1949–52 , ed. D. Mitchell and H. Keller (London, 1981)
  • C. Stuart : ‘Britten “The Eclectic”’, Music Survey , 2 (1949–50), 247–50; repr. in Mitchell and Keller, Music Survey: New Series, 1949–52 , ed. D. Mitchell and H. Keller (London, 1981)
  • P. Hamburger : ‘Mainly about Britten’, Music Survey , iii (1950–51), 98–107; repr. in Mitchell and Keller, Music Survey: New Series, 1949–52 , ed. D. Mitchell and H. Keller (London, 1981)
  • D. Mitchell and H. Keller , eds.: Benjamin Britten: a Commentary on his Works from a Group of Specialists (London, 1952)
  • E. Stein : ‘Britten Seen against his English Background’, Orpheus in New Guises (London, 1953), 149–63
  • P. Tranchell : ‘Britten and Brittenites’, ML , 34 (1953), 124–32
  • D. Brown : ‘Stimulus and Form in Britten’s Works’, ML , 39 (1958), 218–26
  • A. Whittall : ‘Benjamin Britten’, MR , 23 (1962), 314–16
  • H. Keller : ‘The World around Britten’, Tempo , nos.66–7 (1963), 32–4
  • R. Strode : ‘Benjamin Britten and the Recorder’, Recorder and Music Magazine , 1 (1965), 262–3
  • P. Evans : ‘Sonata Structures in Early Britten’, Tempo , no.82 (1967), 2–13
  • P. Garvie : ‘Darkly Bright: Britten’s Moral Imagination’, Canada Music Book , no.1 (1970), 59–66
  • D. Handel : ‘Britten’s Use of the Passacaglia’, Tempo , no.94 (1970), 2–6
  • F. Routh : ‘Benjamin Britten’, Contemporary British Music: the Twenty-Five Years from 1945 to 1970 (London, 1972), 203–29
  • P. Evans : ‘Britten’s Fourth Creative Decade’, Tempo , no.106 (1973), 8–17
  • H. Keller : ‘Benjamin Britten and the Rôle of Suffering’, Frontier , 16 (1973), 235–9
  • W. Thomas : ‘Britten as Humanist: a Redefinition’, Composer , no.60 (1977), 9–11
  • P. Evans : The Music of Benjamin Britten (London, 1979, 2/1996)
  • A. Whittall : ‘The Study of Britten: Triadic Harmony and Tonal Structure’, PRMA , 106 (1979–80), 27–41
  • D. Mitchell : Britten and Auden in the Thirties: the Year 1936 (London, 1981)
  • H. Aguilar : ‘A Dangerous Faith: Benjamin Britten’s Language’, Parnassus , 10 (1982), 135–70
  • A. Whittall : The Music of Britten and Tippett (Cambridge, 1982, 2/1990)
  • C. Mark : ‘Simplicity in Early Britten’, Tempo , no.147 (1983), 8–14
  • C. Palmer , ed.: The Britten Companion (London, 1984)
  • C. Mark : ‘Contextually Transformed Tonality in Britten’, MAn , 4 (1985), 265–87
  • M. Bowen : ‘Britten und Tippett: die Erneuerung in der englischen Musik’, ÖMz , 41 (1986), 155–64
  • B. Docherty : ‘Aschenbach’s Wilderness’, Tempo , no.157 (1986), 9–11
  • W.R. Maust : Benjamin Britten’s Music of Conscience and Compassion (Waterloo, 1987)
  • M. Cooke : ‘Britten and Bali’, JMR , 7 (1988), 307–39
  • M. Cooke : ‘Britten and the Shō’, MT , 129 (1988), 231–3
  • M. Kennedy : ‘Under the Influence: Britten’s Debt to Mahler: Enthusiasm, Advocacy and Inspiration’, The Listener (18 Aug 1988)
  • P. Griffiths : ‘A Mind Withdrawing: Britten’s Music and the Lure of Might-Have-Beens’, Times Literary Supplement (28 June 1991)
  • R. Holloway : ‘Strange Victor: the Abyss in Britten’s Soul and the Triumph of his Will’, Times Literary Supplement (13 Nov 1992)
  • P. Rupprecht : Tonal Stratification and Conflict in the Music of Benjamin Britten (diss., Yale U., 1993)
  • L. Whitesell : Images of Self in the Music of Benjamin Britten (diss., SUNY, 1993)
  • A. Whittall : ‘The Signs of Genre: Britten’s Version of Pastoral’, Sundry Sorts of Music Books: Essays on the British Library Collections Presented to O.W. Neighbour , ed. C. Banks , A. Searle and M. Turner (London, 1993), 363–74
  • C. Mark : ‘Britten and the Circle of Fifths’, JRMA , 119 (1994), 268–97
  • S. Robinson : ‘“You absolutely owe it to England to stay here”: Copland as Mentor to Britten, 1939–1942’, Context , 8/sum. (1994–5), 3–11
  • C. Mark : Early Benjamin Britten: a Study of Stylistic and Technical Evolution (New York,1995)
  • P. Reed , ed.: On Mahler and Britten: Essays in Honour of Donald Mitchell on his 70th Birthday (Woodbridge, 1995)
  • L. Brauneiss : ‘Zur Akualität Benjamin Brittens’, Musiktheorie , 11 (1996), 125–37
  • G. Elliott : ‘Britten and Plainsong’, Melos [Stockholm], nos.19–20 (1997), 18–36
  • D. Mitchell : ‘Benjamin Britten: the Quiet Innovator’, Melos [Stockholm], nos.19–20 (1997), 4–17
  • S. Robinson : ‘“An English Composer sees America”: Benjamin Britten and the North American Press, 1939–42’, American Music , 15 (1997), 321–51
  • A. Tuchowski : ‘Between Modernity and Tradition: the Tritone as a “diabolus in musica” in Britten’s Works’, Melos [Stockholm], nos.19–20 (1997), 72–8
  • M. Cooke : Britten and the Far East: Asian Influences in the Music of Benjamin Britten (Woodbridge, 1998)
  • C. Pond : Words and Music in Benjamin Britten: Englishness, Authenticity and Irony (diss., U. of Leeds, 1998)
  • A. Whittall : ‘Cross-Currents and Convergencies: Britten, Maxwell Davies and the Sense of Place’, Tempo , no.204 (1998), 5–11
  • M. Cooke , ed.: The Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Britten (Cambridge, 1999)
  • P. Rupprecht : Britten’s Musical Language (Cambridge, 2001)
  • P. Kildea : Selling Britten: Music and the Market Place (Oxford, 2002)
  • L. Whitesell : ‘Britten’s Dubious Trysts’, JAMS , 56 (2003), 637–94
  • H. Keller : Music and Psychology: From Vienna to London, 1939–1952 , ed. C. Wintle (London, 2003)
  • P. Brett : Music and Sexuality in Britten: Selected Essays , ed. G. Haggerty (Berkeley, 2006)
  • G. Elliott : Benjamin Britten: The Spiritual Dimension (Oxford, 2006)
  • L. Walker : ‘“How a Child’s Mind Works”: Assessing the ‘Value’ of Britten’s Juvenilia’, Notes , lxiv (2008), 641–58
  • L. Walker , ed.: Benjamin Britten: New Perspectives on His Life and Work (Woodbridge, 2009)
  • B. Stoffels : Tradition, Einfachheit, Verzerrung und Brechung: Aspekte der Instrumentalwerke von Benjamin Britten (Tutzing, 2012)
  • H. Wiebe : Britten’s Unquiet Pasts: Sound and Memory in Postwar Reconstruction (Cambridge, 2012)
  • P. Rupprecht , ed: Rethinking Britten (Oxford, forthcoming)
  • H. Keller : Britten: the Creative Character and Other Writings (London, forthcoming)
E: Operas
    • J. Klein : ‘Britten and English Opera’, MO , 72 (1948–9), 517–18
    • H.F. Redlich : ‘The Significance of Britten’s Operatic Style’, Music Survey , 2 (1949–50), 240–45; repr. in Music Survey: New Series, 1949–52 , ed. D. Mitchell and H. Keller (London, 1981)
    • E. Stein : ‘Benjamin Britten’s Operas’, Opera , 1 (1950), 16–21
    • Benjamin Britten: das Opernwerk , Musik der Zeit, no.11 (Bonn, 1955)
    • D. Mitchell : ‘Britten’s Revisionary Practice: Practical and Creative’, Tempo , nos.66–7 (1963), 15–22
    • P. Howard : The Operas of Benjamin Britten (London, 1969)
    • E.W. White : Benjamin Britten: his Life and Operas (London, 1970, 2/1983)
    • D. Herbert , ed.: The Operas of Benjamin Britten (London, 1979)
    • H. Keller : ‘Zu Benjamin Brittens Opernschaffen’, ÖMz , 36 (1981), 379–87
    • J. Kuhnel : ‘Die Novelle als Opernvorwurf: zur Dramaturgie einiger Opern Benjamin Brittens’, Oper und Operntext , ed. J.M. Fischer (Heidelberg, 1985), 227–60
    • G. Elliott : ‘The Operas of Benjamin Britten: a Spiritual View’, OQ , 4/3 (1986–7), 28–44
    • E. McDonald : ‘Women in Benjamin Britten’s Operas’, OQ , 4/3 (1986–7), 83–101
    • S. Corse : Opera and the Uses of Language: Mozart, Verdi and Britten (Cranbury, NJ, 1987)
    • J.K. Law : ‘The Dialogics of Operatic Adaptation: Reading Benjamin Britten’, Yearbook of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Fine Arts , 1 (1989), 407–27
    • M. Kennedy : ‘Britten’s Operas: 20 Years On’, Opera , 47 (1996), 1004–11
    • M. Wilcox : Benjamin Britten’s Operas (Bath, 1997)
    • G. Gualerzi : ‘Britten in Italy’, Opera , 48 (1997), 1418–1424
    • J. Heberlé : ‘Les Transpositions Opératiques de A Midsummer Night’s Dream et de The Turn of the Screw par Benjamin Britten et ses Librettistes’, Anglophonia , xi (2002), 157–62
    • C. Seymour : The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion (Woodbridge, 2004)
    • S M. Halliwell : Opera and the Novel: The Case of Henry James , ed. W. Bernhart (Amsterdam, 2005)
    • S. Aymès : ‘John Piper et Benjamin Britten: Le renouveau de l‘opéra anglais et ses décors’, La revue LISA/LISA e-journal , iv (2006), 89–105
    • D. Davidović : ‘Die Stimme, aus dem Leid geboren: Benjamin Brittens Träume’, Musik &Ästhetik , no.13 (2009), 91–5
    Peter Grimes
    • E. Crozier , ed.: Peter Grimes (London, 1945/ R )
    • E. Stein : ‘Opera and “Peter Grimes”’, Tempo , 1st ser., no.12 (1945), 2–6; repr. in Orpheus in New Guises (London, 1953), 110–17
    • C. Stuart : Peter Grimes (London, 1947)
    • F. Abbiati : Peter Grimes (Milan, 1949)
    • J. Kerman : ‘Grimes and Lucretia’, Hudson Review , 2 (1949), 277–84
    • H. Keller : ‘Britten: Thematic Relations and the “Mad” Interlude’s 5th Motif’, Music Survey , 4 (1951–2), 332–4; repr. in Music Survey: New Series, 1949–52 , ed. D. Mitchell and H. Keller (London, 1981)
    • J.W. Garbutt : ‘Music and Motive in “Peter Grimes”’, ML , 44 (1963), 334–42
    • A. Payne : ‘Dramatic Use of Tonality in Peter Grimes ’, Tempo , nos.66–7 (1963), 22–6
    • P. Garvie : ‘Plausible Darkness: Peter Grimes after a Quarter of a Century’, Tempo , no.100 (1972), 9–14
    • P. Brett : ‘Britten and Grimes’, MT , 118 (1977), 995–1000
    • L’avant-scène opéra , no.31 (1981) [ Peter Grimes issue]
    • P. Brett , ed.: Peter Grimes (Cambridge, 1983/ R )
    • N. John , ed.: Peter Grimes; Gloriana (London, 1983) [ENO opera guide]
    • C. Palmer : ‘Chaos and Cosmos in Peter Grimes’ , 1984, 108–19
    • P. Brett : ‘Grimes and Lucretia’, Music and Theatre: Essays in Honour of Winton Dean , ed. N. Fortune (Cambridge, 1987), 353–65
    • C. Hindley : ‘Homosexual Self-Affirmation and Self-Oppression in Two Britten Operas’, MQ , 76 (1992), 143–68
    • P. Banks , ed.: The Making of Peter Grimes (Woodbridge, 1995)
    • H. Keller : Three Psychoanalytic Notes on Peter Grimes (London, 1995)
    • S.A. Allen : ‘“He Descended into Hell”’: Peter Grimes, Ellen Orford and Salvation Denied’, Cooke , D1999, 81–94
    • A. Bewell : ‘On the Margin of Sea and Society: Peter Grimes and Romantic Naturalism’, University of Toronto Quarterly , 74 (2005), 636–47
    • A. Hepburn : ‘ Peter Grimes and the Rumour of Homosexuality’, University of Toronto Quarterly , 74 (2005), 648–56
    • J. Brandon : ‘Storms, Laughter and Madness: Verdian ‘Numbers’ and Generic Allusion in Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes ’, Walker , D2009, 73–85
    The Rape of Lucretia
    • W.H. Haddon Squire : ‘The Aesthetic Hypothesis and “The Rape of Lucretia”’, Tempo , no.1 (1946), 1–9
    • H. Searle : ‘Britten’s Lucretia’, MM , 23 (1946), 284 only
    • H. Keller : The Rape of Lucretia; Albert Herring (London, 1947)
    • E. Crozier , ed.: The Rape of Lucretia: a Symposium (London, 1948)
    • J. Kerman : ‘Grimes and Lucretia’, Hudson Review , 2 (1949), 277–84
    • D. Mitchell : ‘A Note on the “Flower Aria” and “Passacaglia” in “Lucretia”’, Music Survey , 3 (1950–51), 276–7; repr. in Music Survey: New Series, 1949–52 , ed. D. Mitchell and H. Keller (London, 1981)
    • Earl of Harewood : ‘Das Lucretia-Libretto’, Musik der Zeit , no.11 (1955), 35–8
    • R. Duncan : ‘The Problems of a Librettist: is Opera Emotionally Immature?’, Composer , no.23 (1967), 6–9
    • C. Headington : ‘ The Rape of Lucretia ’, Palmer, D1984, 120–26
    • P. Brett : ‘Grimes and Lucretia’, Music and Theatre: Essays in Honour of Winton Dean , ed. N. Fortune (Cambridge, 1987), 353–65
    • M. Mertz : History, Criticism and the Sources of Benjamin Britten’s Rape of Lucretia (diss., Harvard U., 1990)
    • N. Evans and E. Crozier : ‘After Long Pursuit’, OQ , 11/2 (1994–5), 9–16
    • T. Power : ‘Opera as Literature: The Rape of Lucretia’, Irish Musical Studies , 4 (1996), 232–46
    • D. Baker : ‘Chamber Drama’, ON , 76 (2012), 14–15
    • J.P.E. Harper-Scott : ‘Britten’s Opera About Rape’, COJ , 21 (2010), 65–88
    Albert Herring
    • H. Keller : The Rape of Lucretia; Albert Herring (London, 1947)
    • E. Stein : ‘Form in Opera: “Albert Herring” Examined’, Tempo , no.5 (1947), 4–8; repr. in Orpheus in New Guises (London, 1953), 118–23
    • G. Larner : ‘Albert from Aldeburgh’, Records and Recording , 8/1 (1964–5), 10–12
    • R.T. Bledsoe : ‘Chastity and Darkness in “Albert Herring”’, Mosaic , 18/4 (1985), 125–33
    • E. Crozier and others: ‘An Albert Herring Anthology’, Glyndebourne Festival Opera 1985 , 113–23 [programme book]
    • P. Brett : ‘Character and Caricature in “Albert Herring”’, MT , 127 (1986), 545–7
    • D. Mitchell : ‘The Serious Comedy of Albert Herring ’, OQ , 4/3 (1986–7), 45–59
    • J.K. Law : ‘Daring to Eat a Peach: Literary Allusion in Albert Herring ’, OQ , 5/1 (1987–8), 1–10
    • M. Kennedy : ‘How Albert Became Our Kind of Thing’, Glyndebourne Festival Opera 1990 , 121–7 [programme book]
    • P. Brett : ‘ Albert Herring : Britten’s Celebration of Liberation’, Performing Arts , 26/4 (1992), 21–6
    • E. Crozier : ‘The Writing of Albert Herring’, Opera L.A ., 9/3 (1992), 3–5
    • C. Hindley : ‘Not the Marrying Kind: Britten’s “Albert Herring”’, COJ , 7 (1994), 159–74
    • L’avant-scène opera , no.248 (2009) [ Albert Herring issue]
    • C. Chowrimootoo : ‘The Timely Traditions of Albert Herring ’, OQ , 27 (2011), 379–419
    Billy Budd
    • Tempo , no.21 (1951) [ Billy Budd issue]
    • D. Mitchell : ‘More off than on “Billy Budd”’, Music Survey , 4 (1951–2), 386–408; repr. in Music Survey: New Series, 1949–52 , ed. D. Mitchell and H. Keller (London, 1981)
    • C. Campbell : ‘Second Thoughts on “Billy Budd”’, Adam International Review , nos.224–6 (1952), 19–21
    • E. Crozier : ‘Writing an Opera’, Adam International Review , nos.224–6 (1952), 17–19
    • I. Holst : ‘Billy Budd’, Foyer , 2 (1952), 28–32
    • A. Porter : ‘Britten’s “Billy Budd”’, ML , 33 (1952), 111–18
    • E. Stein : ‘ Billy Budd ’, Benjamin Britten: a Commentary on his Works from a Group of Specialists , ed. D. Mitchell and H. Keller (London, 1952), 198–210; repr. in Opera , iii (1952), 206–14, 249 only, and in Orpheus in New Guises (London, 1953), 124–36
    • A. Porter : ‘Some Other Budds’, About the House , 5/8 (1979), 47–51
    • N. Bradley : ‘The Non-Clinical Test of a Clinical Theory: Billy Budd, Novel and Libretto’, International Review of Psycho-Analysis (1980), 233–49
    • J.K. Law : ‘“We have ventured to tidy up Vere”: the Adapter’s Dialogue in Billy Budd’, Twentieth Century Literature , 31 (1985), 297–314
    • E. Crozier : ‘The Writing of “Billy Budd”’, OQ , 4/3 (1986–7), 11–27
    • C. Hindley : ‘Love and Salvation in Britten’s “Billy Budd”’, ML , 70 (1989), 363–81
    • A. Whittall : ‘“Twisted Relations”: Method and Meaning in Britten’s “Billy Budd”’, COJ , 2 (1990), 145–71
    • B. Emslie : ‘ Billy Budd and the Fear of Words’, COJ , 4 (1992), 43–59
    • M. Cooke and P. Reed , eds.: Benjamin Britten: Billy Budd (Cambridge, 1993)
    • L’avant-scène opéra , no.158 (1994) [ Billy Budd issue]
    • C. Hindley : ‘Britten’s Billy Budd : the “Interview Chords” Again’, MQ , 78 (1994), 99–126
    • P. Rupprecht : ‘Tonal Stratification and Uncertainty in Britten’s Music’, JMT , 41 (1996), 311–46
    • S. McKellar : ‘Re-Visioning the “Missing” Scene: Critical and Tonal Trajectories in Britten’s Billy Budd ’, JRMA , 122 (1997), 258–80
    • P. Reed : ‘On the Sketches for Billy Budd ’, Melos [Stockholm], nos.19–20 (1997), 48–63
    • T. and J. Uppman : ‘Novel Approach’, Stagebill (1997), Feb, 20–22
    • M. Francis : ‘“A Kind of Voyage”: E. M. Forster and Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd ’, Biographical Passages: Essays in Victorian and Modernist Biography , ed. J. Law and L.K. Hughes (Columbia, 2000), 44–64
    • P. Brett : ‘ Salvation at Sea: Britten’s Billy Budd ’, D2006, 70–80
    • M. Fillion : ‘Claggart’s Monologue and the Art of Collaboration in Billy Budd ’, Difficult Rhythm: Music and the Word in E.M. Forster (Urbana, 2010), 123–37
    • S. Allen : ‘ Billy Budd : Temporary Salvation and the Faustian Pact’, JMR , 25 (2006), 43–73
    • M. Arjomand : ‘E.M. Forster’s Billy Budd and the Collaborative Work of Opera’, Theatre Survey , 51 (2010), 225–45
    • J. Klein : ‘Some Reflections on “Gloriana”’, Tempo , no.29 (1953), 16–21
    • A. Porter : ‘Britten’s “Gloriana”’, ML , 34 (1953), 277–87
    • Opera , 4 (1953), 455–69 [symposium on Gloriana ]
    • Tempo , no.28 (1953) [ Gloriana issue]
    • W. Plomer : ‘Let’s Crab an Opera’, London Magazine , new ser., 3/7 (1963), 101–4
    • H. Keller and S. Walsh : ‘Two Interpretations of Gloriana as Music Drama’, Tempo , no.79 (1966–7), 2–9
    • J. Klein : ‘Britten’s Major Setback’, MO , 90 (1966–7), 13–14
    • W. Plomer : ‘The Gloriana Libretto’, Sadler’s Wells Magazine , 4 (1968), 8–9
    • N. John , ed.: Peter Grimes; Gloriana (London, 1983) [ENO opera guide]
    • D. Mitchell : ‘Public and Private in Gloriana ’, Palmer , D1984, 170–76
    • P.F. Alexander : ‘The Process of Composition of the Libretto of Britten’s “Gloriana”’, ML , 67 (1986), 147–58
    • P. Banks , ed.: Britten’s Gloriana: Essays and Sources (Woodbridge, 1993)
    • R. Holloway : ‘“Gloriana” and “The Beggar’s Opera”’, Tempo , no.189 (1994), 39–41
    • A. Malloy-Chirgwin : ‘ Gloriana : Britten’s “Slighted Child”’, Cooke , D1999, 113–28
    • H. Wiebe : ‘“Now and England”: Gloriana and the New Elizabethans’, COJ , 17 (2005), 141–72
    • G. Couderc : ‘ Gloriana de Britten et le rêve de l’opéra anglais’, Revue LISA/LISA e-journal , 4 (2006), 106–25
    • J. Bastos da Silva : ‘Das Representações de Isabel I de Inglaterra na Ópera e no Cinema’, Via Panorâmica , no.2 (2009), 23–58
    • K. Salfen : ‘Towards a Mechanics of Voice For Plomer and Britten’s Gloriana ’, ML , 92 (2011), 84–113
    • H. Wiebe : ‘ Gloriana and the “New Elizabethans” ’, D2012, 109–50
    The Turn of the Screw
    • E. Stein : ‘“The Turn of the Screw” and its Musical Idiom’, Tempo , no.34 (1955), 6–14
    • L. Landgraf : ‘Bemerkungen des Übersetzers’, Neues Forum , 7 (1957–8), 119–23
    • P. Howard , ed.: The Turn of the Screw (Cambridge, 1985)
    • W. Mellers : ‘Turning the Screw’, Palmer , D1984, 144–52
    • M. Stimpson : ‘Drama and Meaning in The Turn of the Screw ’, OQ , 4/3 (1986–7), 75–82
    • C. Hindley : ‘Why does Miles Die? A Study of Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw”’, MQ , 74 (1990), 1–17
    • M. Schulz : ‘An Unending Horror: Henry James’s and Benjamin Britten’s Turn(ings) of the Screw’, Yearbook of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Fine Arts , 2 (1990), 37–48
    • P. Brett : ‘Britten’s Bad Boys: Male Relations in The Turn of the Screw ’, Repercussions , 1/2 (1992), 5–25
    • L. Whitesell : ‘Doubt and Failure in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw ’, Indiana Theory Review , 13/2 (1992), 41–87
    • L’avant-scène opéra , no.173 (1996) [ The Turn of the Screw/Owen Wingrave issue]
    • M. Deutsch : ‘Ceremonies of Innocence: Men, Boys and Women in The Turn of the Screw ’, Henry James on Stage and Screen , ed. J.R. Bradley (New York, 2000), 72–83
    • L. Brauneiss : ‘Benjamin Britten: The Turn of the Screw – Von die Schrauben der Bösen, der Erziehung und der Geschichte,’ Österreichische Musikzeitschrift , 57 (2002), 9–16
    • W. Weidringer : ‘Leugnen und Gestehen: The Turn of the Screw im Lichte des “Willens zum Wissen”’, Musik-Wissenschaft an ihren Grenzen , ed. D. Schweiger (Frankfurt am Main, 2004), 321–41
    • D. Wawrzyniak : ‘Z problematyki dramatyczności opery The turn of the screw Benjamina Brittena’, Dzieło muzyczne: Studia i rozprawy , ed. T. Brodniewicz (Poznan, 1999), 61–71
    • M. Kolmakova : ‘Among the Mysteries and Presentiments’, Peterburgskij teatral’nyj žurnal , 28, (2002)
    A Midsummer Night’s Dream
    • P. Evans : ‘Britten’s New Opera: a Preview’, Tempo , nos.53–4 (1960), 34–48
    • D. Mitchell : ‘In and Out of Britten’s Dream ’, Opera , 11 (1960), 797–801
    • E. Roseberry : ‘A Note on the Four Chords in Act II of A Midsummer Night’s Dream ’, Tempo , nos.66–7 (1963), 36–7
    • R. Warren : A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Text and Performance (London, 1983)
    • W. Riehle : ‘Benjamin Brittens Oper A Midsummer Night’s Dream aus heutiger Sicht’, Jb Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft (1984), 149–63
    • D. Mitchell and P. Reed : ‘“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Anthology’, Glyndebourne Festival Opera 1989 , 133–41 [programme book]
    • L’avant-scène opéra , no.146 (1992) [ A Midsummer Night’s Dream issue]
    • Performing Arts , 26/9 (1992) [ A Midsummer Night’s Dream issue]
    • P. Brett : ‘Britten’s Dream’, Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music Scholarship , ed. R.A. Solie (Berkeley, 1993), 259–80
    • M. Cooke : ‘Britten and Shakespeare: Dramatic and Musical Cohesion in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”’, ML , 74 (1993), 246–68
    • W.H. Godsalve : Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (London, 1995)
    • M. Cooke : ‘Britten and Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream ’, Cooke , D1999, 129–46
    • D. Albright : ‘Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Musicking Shakespeare: a Conflict of Theatres (Rochester, 2007), 265–96
    • K. Larson and L. Wiliford : ‘“A Local Habitation and a Name”: Britten Adapts Shakespeare’, University of Toronto Quarterly , 79 (2010), 899–921
    • S. Brodsky : ‘Britten as Another: Six Notes on a Mystic Writing Pad’, Berlioz, Verdi, Wagner, Britten , ed. D. Albright (London, 2012), 158–203
    Church parables
    • E. Vermeulen : ‘Höhepunkt des Holland-Festivals: “Curlew River” von Britten’, Melos , 31 (1964), 313–14
    • W.T. Flynn : ‘Britten the Progressive’, MR , 44 (1983), 44–52
    • M. Mayer : A Structural and Stylistic Analysis of the Benjamin Britten Curlew River (diss., Columbia U. Teachers College, 1983)
    • P.F. Alexander : ‘A Study of the Origins of Britten’s “Curlew River”’, ML , 69 (1988), 229–43
    • C. Hindley : ‘Homosexual Self-Affirmation and Self-Oppression in Two Britten Operas’, MQ , 76 (1992), 143–68
    • C. Hindley : ‘Britten’s Parable Art: a Gay Reading’, History Workshop Journal , 40 (1995), 63–90
    • M. Cooke : ‘Eastern Influences on Britten’s The Prodigal Son ’, Melos [Stockholm], nos.19–20 (1997), 37–45
    • E. Baumgartner : ‘Benjamin Brittens Curlew River : Eine Brücke zwischen christlichem und fernöstlichem Mysterienspiel’, Österreichische Musikzeitschrift , 54 (1999), 18–20
    • G. Klinke : ‘Benjamin Brittens Curlew River : Zwischen Exotismus, Synthese und Adaption’, Musikkonzepte—Konzepte der Musikwissenschaft , ed. K. Eberl and W. Ruf (Kassel, 2000), 118–24
    • W.A. Sheppard : ‘Britten’s Parables’, Revealing Masks: Exotic Influences and Ritualized Performance in Modernist Music Theater (Berkeley, 2001), 126–154
    • Y. Chung : ‘Eastern Influence: The Medieval Japanese Nō Drama as a Basis for Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River ’, Asian Musicology , 7 (2005), 91–136
    • G. Couderc : ‘Britten et l’art de parabole’, La revue LISA/LISA e-journal , 2 (2004), 126–44
    Owen Wingrave
    • P. Evans : ‘Britten’s Television Opera’, MT , 112 (1971), 425–8
    • H. Raynor : ‘Owen Wingrave’, MR , 32 (1971), 271–3
    • S. Sadie : ‘Owen Wingrave’, MT , 112 (1971), 663–6
    • B. Schiffer : ‘Benjamin Brittens neue Fernsehoper’, Melos , 38 (1971), 313–14
    • J. Evans : ‘ Owen Wingrave : a Case for Pacifism’, Palmer , D1984, 227–37
    • D. Cescotti : ‘Pacifismo in musica: il caso di Owen Wingrave di Benjamin Britten’, Ottocento e oltre: scritti in onore di Raoul Meloncelli , ed. F. Izzo and J. Streicher (Rome, 1993), 591–601
    • S. McClatchie : ‘Benjamin Britten, “Owen Wingrave” and the Politics of the Closet: or, “He shall be straightened out at Paramore”’, COJ , 8 (1994), 59–75
    • ‘A Collaboration Recalled: Myfanwy Piper Talks to Roderick Dunnett’, Opera , 46 (1995), 1158–64
    • A. Whittall : ‘Breaking the Balance’, MT , 137 (1996), 4–7
    • L’avant-scène opera , no.173 (1996) [ Owen Wingrave / The Turn of the Screw issue]
    • S. McKellar : ‘Music, Image and Ideology in Britten’s “Owen Wingrave”: Conflict in a Fissured Text’, ML , 80 (1999), 390–410
    • J. Barnes : ‘Britten, Opera, and Television’, Television Opera: the Fall of Opera Commissioned for Television (Woodbridge, 2003), 42–80
    • A. Whittall ,: ‘Britten’s Lament: the World of Owen Wingrave ’, Man , 19 (2000), 145–66
    • F. Spalding : ‘Dramatic Invention in Myfanway Piper’s Libretto for Owen Wingrave ’, Walker , D2009, 86–96
    • A. Muus : ‘“The Minstrel Boy to the War is Gone”: Father Figures and Fighting Sons in Britten’s Owen Wingrave’, Walker , D2009, 97–115
    Death in Venice
    • J. Blades : ‘Making Percussion Instruments for Benjamin Britten’, The Listener (15 June 1972)
    • P. Evans : ‘Britten’s “Death in Venice”’, Opera , 24 (1973), 490–96
    • T.J. Reed : ‘Death in Venice’, About the House , 4/3 (1973), 44–7
    • B. Schiffer : ‘Thomas Manns Aschenbach lernt durch Britten singen?’, Melos , 40 (1973), 358–69
    • C. van Zwol : ‘ Death in Venice , de laatste opera van Benjamin Britten’, Luister , 21 (1973), 16–19
    • S.M. Stroff : ‘Britten’s Death in Venice : if it isn’t Opera, what is it?’, New Jersey Music &Arts , 30/5 (1975), 36–8
    • G. Schmidgall : ‘Death in Venice’, Literature as Opera (New York, 1977), 321–55
    • D. Mitchell : ‘ Death in Venice : the Dark Side of Perfection’, Palmer , D1984, 238–49
    • C. Palmer : ‘Towards a Genealogy of Death in Venice ’, Palmer , D1984, 250–67
    • J. Evans : ‘Britten’s Venice Workshop’, pt i: ‘The Sketch Book’, Soundings , 12 (1984–5), 7–24; pt ii: ‘The Revisions’, xiii (1985), 51–77
    • J. Evans : ‘ Death in Venice : the Apollonian/Dionysian Conflict’, OQ , 4/3 (1986–7), 102–15
    • D. Mitchell , ed.: Death in Venice (Cambridge, 1987)
    • R. Travis : ‘The Recurrent Figure in the Britten/Piper Opera “Death in Venice”’, Music Forum , 6 (1987), 129–246
    • S. and L. Corse : ‘Britten’s “Death in Venice”: Literary and Musical Structures’, MQ , 73 (1989), 344–63
    • C. Hindley : ‘Contemplation and Reality: a Study in Britten’s “Death in Venice”’, ML , 71 (1990), 511–23
    • C. Hindley : ‘Platonic Elements in Britten’s “Death in Venice”’, ML , 73 (1992), 407–29
    • B. Diana : Il sapore della conoscenza: Benjamin Britten e ‘Death in Venice ’ (Turin, 1997)
    • D. Fischlin : ‘“Eros Is in the Word”: Music, Homoerotic Desire, and the Psychopathologies of Fascism, or the “Strangely Fruitful Intercourse” of Thomas Mann and Benjamin Britten’, The Work of Opera: Genre, Nationhood, and Sexual Difference , ed. R. Dellamora and D. Fischlin (New York, 1997), 209–235
    • M. Cooke : ‘ Death in Venice ’, D1998, 220–44
    • E. W. Said : ‘Not All the Way to the Tigers: Britten’s Death in Venice ’, Critical Quarterly , 41 (1999), 46–54
    • R. Longobardi : ‘ Models and Modes of Music Representation in Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice: Musical, Historical, and Ideological Contexts ’ (diss., Columbia U., 2004)
    • R. Longobardi : ‘Reading Between the Lines: An Approach to the Musical and Sexual Ambiguities of Death in Venice ’, JM , 22 (2005), 327–64
    • R. Longobardi : ‘Multivalence and Collaboration in Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice ’, twentieth-century music , ii (2005), 53–78
    • S. Johnson : ‘At a loss for words: Writer’s block in Britten’s Death in Venice ’, PsyArt (2007),
    • S. Johnson : ‘Britten’s Musical Syllables’, ML , 86 (2005), 592–622
    • J.P.E. Harper-Scott : ‘“Made You Look!’ Children in Salome and Death in Venice , Walker, D2009, 116–37
    • C. Chowrimootoo : ‘Bourgeois Opera: Death in Venice and the Aesthetics of Sublimation’, COJ , 22 (2011), 175–216
    Other operas
    • H. Keller : ‘Britten’s Beggar’s Opera ’, Tempo , no.10 (1948–9), 7–13
    • D. Mitchell : ‘Britten’s “Let’s Make an Opera” op.45’, Music Survey , 2 (1949–50), 86–8; repr. in Music Survey: New Series, 1949–52 , ed. D. Mitchell and H. Keller (London, 1981)
    • I. Holst : ‘Britten’s “Let’s Make an Opera!”’, Tempo , no.18 (1951–2), 12–16
    • E. Roseberry : ‘The Music of “Noye’s Fludde”’, Tempo , no.49 (1958), 2–11
    • E. Stein : ‘Britten’s New Opera for Children: “Noye’s Fludde”’, Tempo , no.48 (1958), 7–8
    • H. Raynor : ‘Paul Bunyan’, MR , 38 (1977), 112–15
    • W. Mellers : ‘ Paul Bunyan : the American Eden’, Palmer , D1984, 97–103
    • J.P. Frayne : ‘ Paul Bunyan ’s Second Chances: Revisions and Revivals’, American Music , 3 (1985), 1–15
    • W.H. Auden : Paul Bunyan (London, 1988) [libretto with introductory essay by D. Mitchell ]
    • P. Reed : ‘A Rejected Love Song from “Paul Bunyan”’, MT , 129 (1988), 283–8
    • C. Hindley : ‘Britten, Auden and Johnny Inkslinger’, Perversions , 2 (1994), 42–56
    • R. Holloway : ‘“Gloriana” and “The Beggar’s Opera”’, Tempo , no.189 (1994), 39–41
    • W.A. Sheppard : ‘The Audience as Congregation’, Revealing Masks: Exotic Influences and Ritualized Performance in Modernist Music Theater (Berkeley, 2001), 115–25
    • H. Wiebe : ‘Benjamin Britten, the “National Faith”, and the Animation of History in 1950s England’, Representations , 93 (2006), 76–105
    • M.P. Carlson : ‘Auden and Britten’s Paul Bunyan and the Frontiers of Opera’, Modern Drama , iv (2011), 409–34
F: Other works
    • E. Stein : ‘Brittens Sinfonien’, Musik der Zeit , no.7 (1954), 46–53
    • N. Del Mar : ‘The Orchestral Music’, London Magazine , new ser., 3/7 (1963), 96–101
    • P. Evans : ‘Britten’s Cello Symphony’, Tempo , nos.66–7 (1963), 2–15
    • J. Warrack : ‘Britten’s Cello Symphony’, MT , 105 (1964), 418–19
    • L. Berkeley : ‘Views from Mont Juic’, Tempo , no.106 (1973), 6–7
    • D. Mitchell : ‘Catching on to the Technique in Pagoda-Land’, Tempo , no.146 (1983), 13–24
    • D. Mitchell : ‘An After Word on Britten’s Pagodas : the Balinese Sources’, Tempo , no.152 (1985), 7–11
    • E. Roseberry : ‘Britten’s Piano Concerto: the Original Version’, Tempo , no.172 (1990), 10–18
    • L. Kovnatskaya : ‘Russian Funeral through Russian Ears’, International Journal of Musicology , 2 (1993), 321–33
    • G. Weiss-Aigner : ‘Zum Violinkonzert von Benjamin Britten: eine ungewöhnliche thematische Konzeption im Brennpunkt melodischer Entwicklungslinien und rhythmischer Profile’, Neues musikwissenschaftliches Jb , 4 (1995), 159–206
    • J. Duchen : ‘Pastoral Puzzle’, The Strad , 108 (1997), 628–9
    • H. Searle : ‘Growing Pains in England’, MM , 16 (1939), 220–24
    • I. Holst : ‘Britten’s “Saint Nicolas”’, Tempo , no.10 (1948), 23–5
    • R. Manning : From Holst to Britten: a Study of Modern Choral Music (London, 1949)
    • D. Mitchell : ‘A Note on St. Nicolas: Some Points of Britten’s Style’, Music Survey , 2 (1949–50), 220–26; repr. in Music Survey: New Series, 1949–52 , ed. D. Mitchell and H. Keller (London, 1981)
    • L. Berkeley : ‘Britten’s “Spring Symphony”’, ML , 31 (1950), 216 only
    • E. Stein : ‘Britten’s “Spring Symphony”’, Tempo , no.15 (1950), 19–24
    • S. Bradshaw : ‘Britten’s “Cantata academica”’, Tempo , nos.53–4 (1960), 22–34
    • E. Roseberry : ‘Britten’s “Missa brevis”’, Tempo , nos.53–4 (1960), 11–16
    • R. Myers : ‘Carmen basiliense’, Adam International Review , nos.289–90 (1961), 4–6
    • P. Evans : ‘Britten’s “War Requiem”’, Tempo , nos.61–2 (1962), 20–39
    • A. Robertson : ‘Britten’s “War Requiem”’, MT , 103 (1962), 308–10
    • A. Whittall : ‘Tonal Instability in Britten’s “War Requiem”’, MR , 24 (1963), 201
    • M. Dawney : ‘Some Notes on Britten’s Church Music’, Tempo , no.82 (1967), 13–20
    • M. Boyd : ‘Britten, Verdi and the Requiem’, Tempo , no.86 (1968), 2–6
    • J. Churchill : ‘The Sacred Works of Benjamin Britten’, Music: the AGO and RCCO Magazine , 11/11 (1977), 40–43
    • M. Stimpson : ‘Britten’s Last Work’, Tempo , no.155 (1985), 34–6
    • D. Jarman : War Requiem: the Film (London, 1989)
    • E. Lundergran : Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem: Stylistic and Technical Sources (diss., U. of Texas, Austin, 1991)
    • M. Cooke : Britten: War Requiem (Cambridge, 1996)
    • J. Ellis : ‘Strange Meeting: Wilfred Owen, Benjamin Britten, Derek Jarman, and the War Requiem ’, The Work of Opera: Genre, Nationhood, and Sexual Difference , ed. R. Dellamora and D. Fischlin (New York, 1997), 277–96
    • P. Aston : ‘Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia ’, Chormusik und Analyse: Beiträge zur Formanalyse und Interpretation mehrstimmiger Vokalmusik , ed. H. Poos (Mainz, 1997), 259–72
    • T. Rooney : ‘ Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem: Parody and the Transmutation of Myth ’ (diss., Boston U., 1997)
    • H. Rowold : ‘“To achieve perfect clarity of expression, that is my aim”: Zum Verhältnis von Tradition und Neuerung in Benjamin Brittens War Requiem ’, Die Musikforschung , lii (1999), 212–19
    • J. Herbert : ‘Bad Faith at Coventry: Spence’s Cathedral and Britten’s War Requiem ’, Critical Inquiry , xxv (1999), 535–65
    • A. Kuster : ‘Benjamin Britten’s Poetic Alterations’, Choral Journal , 40 (2000), 9–15, 17–19
    • D. Saliers : ‘Beauty and Terror’, Spiritus , no.2 (2002), 181–91
    • U. Konrad : ‘Benjamin Britten, Cantata academica, carmen basiliense op. 62: Eine Festmusik zur Fünfhunderjahrfeier der Universität Basel’, Musikalische Quellen: Quellen zur Musikgeschichte—Festschrift für Martin Staehelin zum 65. Geburtstag (Göttingen, 2002), 457–92
    • D. Crilly : ‘Benjamin Britten and Wilfred Owen: an Intertextual Reading of the War Requiem ,’ Phrase and Subject: Studies in Literature and Music , ed. D da Sousa Correa (Leeds, 2006), 178–92
    • S. Sieck : ‘ A Boy Was Born : an Examination of the Stylistic Influences on the Young Benjamin Britten,’ The Choral Scholar , 1 (2009), 16–30
    • D. Forrest : ‘Prolongation in the Choral Music of Benjamin Britten’, MTS , 32 (2010), 1–25
    • M. Foster : The Idea Was Good: the Story of Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ (Bewdley, 2012)
    Songs and song cycles
    • P. Pears : ‘Britten, der Erneuerer des englischen Liedes’, Musik der Zeit , no.7 (1954), 21–30
    • I. Holst : ‘Britten’s Nocturne’, Tempo , no.50 (1958), 14–22
    • J. Noble : ‘Britten’s “Songs from the Chinese”’, Tempo , no.52 (1959), 25–9
    • D. Brown : ‘Britten’s Three Canticles’, MR , 21 (1960), 55
    • E. Roseberry : ‘Britten’s Purcell Realizations and Folksong Arrangements’, Tempo , no.57 (1961), 7–28
    • H. Wood : ‘Britten’s Hölderlin Songs’, MT , 104 (1963), 781–3
    • S. Northcote : Byrd to Britten: a Survey of English Song (London, 1966)
    • I. Holst : ‘Purcell Made Practicable’, Music and Musicians , 17/10 (1968–9), 48 only
    • A. Whittall : ‘Tonality in Britten’s Song Cycles with Piano’, Tempo , no.96 (1971), 2–11
    • A.S. Jacobson : Analysis of ‘Journey of the Magi’, Benjamin Britten (thesis, U. of London, 1980)
    • C. Mark : ‘Britten’s Quatre chansons françaises ’, Soundings , 10 (1983), 23–35
    • E. Simeon : ‘Les illuminations de Benjamin Britten’, Revue d’études rimbaldiennes , 4 (1986), 102–10
    • B. Docherty : ‘Sentence into Cadence: the Word-Setting of Tippett and Britten’, Tempo , no.166 (1988), 2–11
    • M. Kremin : ‘“Happy were he … ”: Benjamin Brittens Werke für Gitarre und Gesang’, Gitarre &Laute , 10/6 (1988), 49–56
    • E. Simeon : ‘Arthur Rimbaud e Benjamin Britten: Villes II ovvero la nostalgia della forma chiusa’, Rimbaud: le poème en prose et la traduction poétique , ed. S. Sacchi (Tübingen, 1988), 123–31
    • B. Docherty : ‘Syllogism and Symbol: Britten, Tippett and English Text’, CMR , 5 (1989), 37–63
    • E. Simeon : ‘Rimbaud in musica: tre versioni di Départ ’, Confronto letterario , 7 (1990), 271–82
    • D. Mitchell : ‘Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal: Britten’s Other Serenade’, Horn Call , 22/1 (1991), 9–14
    • E. Speranza : ‘“Inglese italianato, diavolo incarnato”: brevi note, con alcune licenze, su Britten e Michelangelo’, Esotismo e scuole nazionali: itinerari musicali tra l’Europa e le Americhe (Rome, 1992), 83–107
    • B. Docherty : ‘“When Feeling Becomes Thought”: Britten, Text and Biography 1928–31’, Tempo , no.184 (1993), 24–9
    • A. Whittall : ‘The Signs of Genre: Britten’s Version of Pastoral’, Sundry Sorts of Music Books: Essays on the British Library Collections Presented to O.W. Neighbour , ed. C. Banks , A. Searle and M. Turner (London, 1993), 363–74
    • M. Prictor : ‘The Poems of Thomas Hardy as Song’, Context , 6 (1993–4), 34–42
    • B. Docherty : ‘“We Know for Whom we Mourn”: Britten, Auden and the Politics of 1936’, Tempo , no.192 (1995), 22–7
    • L. Whitesell : ‘Translated Identities in Britten’s Nocturne ’, Repercussions , 6 (1997), 109–34
    • A. Paetsch : ‘Aspects of Narrativity and Temporality in Britten’s Winter Words ’, ML , 79 (1998), 538–54
    • C.F. Pond : ‘Benjamin Britten and T.S. Eliot: Entre Deux Guerres and After’, T. S. Eliot’s Orchestra: Critical Essays on Poetry and Music , ed. J. Cooper (New York, 2000), 215–44
    • D. Banks : ‘Reading Aloud and Composing: Two Ways of Hearing a Poem’, T.S. Eliot’s Orchestra: Critical Essays on Poetry and Music , ed. J. Cooper (London, 2000), 245–66
    • E. Speranza: ‘Inglese italianato, diavolo incarnato’: Brevi note, con alcuna licenza, su Britten e Michelangelo’, Nuova rivista musicale italiana , 33 (2000), 97–117
    • B. Gooch : ‘Britten and Donne: Holy Sonnets Set to Music’, Wrestling with God: Literature and Theology in the English Renaissance , ed. M. Henley and W. Hill (Vancouver, 2001), 193–212
    • M. Ortman : Benjamin Britten and W. H. Auden’s On This Island: an Analysis and Interpretive Guide (diss., Arizona State U., 2002)
    • H. Seelig : ‘“Wozu [Lieder] in dürftiger Zeit” [1958]?: Britten’s Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente as a “Literary Song Cycle”’, Essays in Honor of Steven Paul Scher and on Cultural Identity and the Musical Stage (Amsterdam, 2002), 101–22
    • G. Johnson : Britten, Voice and Piano: Lectures on the Vocal Music of Benjamin Britten (Aldershot, 2003)
    • T. Schnauber : Echoes Truer Far: Benjamin Britten’s Folksong Arrangements as Analytical Guides (diss., U. of Michigan, 2004)
    • T. Barringer : ‘“I am a native, rooted here”: Benjamin Britten, Samuel Palmer and the Neo-Romantic Pastoral’, Art History , 34 (2011), 126–65.
    Chamber and solo instrumental
    • H. Keller : ‘Benjamin Britten’s Second Quartet’, Tempo , 1st ser., no.18 (1947), 6–8
    • P. Evans : ‘Britten’s Cello Sonata’, Tempo , no.58 (1961), 8–16
    • F. Waterman : ‘Britten’s New Piano Piece’, Tempo , nos.66–7 (1963), 34–6
    • J. Lloyd Webber : ‘The Cello Music of Benjamin Britten’, The Strad , 86 (1975–6), 387–91
    • C. Matthews : ‘Britten’s Indian Summer’, Soundings , 6 (1977), 42–50
    • D. Matthews : ‘Britten’s Third Quartet ’, Tempo , no.125 (1978), 21–4
    • S. Banfield : ‘“Too Much of Albion?”: Mrs Coolidge and her British Connections’, American Music , 4 (1986), 59–87
    • A. Payne : ‘Britten and the String Quartet’, Tempo , no.163 (1987), 2–6
    • M. Donley : ‘Britten’s Nocturnal’, Classical Guitar , 5/9 (1987–8), 18–22
    • C. Lo Presti : ‘Il Nocturnal di Britten: note di ricerca per una teoria dell’opera eseguita’, Il Fronimo , no.64 (1988), 10–37
    • M. Giani : ‘“Agghiacciante simmetria”: tritono e variazione in sviluppo nel Nocturnal, op.70 di Benjamin Britten’, Il Fronimo , no.67 (1989), 45–51
    • K. van Slogteren : ‘Benjamin Britten: Six Metamorphoses after Ovid, für Oboe Solo’, Tibia: Magazin für Freunde alter und neuer Bläsermusik , 15 (1990), 268–73
    • T. Seedorf : ‘Tonalität und Form in Benjamin Brittens 3. Streichquartett’, Musiktheorie , 6 (1991), 245–56
    • M. Greet : ‘Inconclusive Conclusions: Ambiguity, Semiotics and Britten’s Third String Quartet’, Context , 6 (1993–4), 43–8
    • E. Speranza : ‘Britten e le Metamorfosi di Ovidio’, I fiati , 1/2 (1994), 46–51
    • T. Bond : ‘Britten’s Music for Organ: Some New Discoveries’, MT , 145 (2004), 51–7
    • M. Jones : ‘Dowland Unchained: Cross-Type Variations in Britten’s Nocturnal , op. 70’, Guitar Review , no.131 (2005), 1–5
    • C. Mark : ‘Supported by Tradition: Sonority, Form, and Transcendence in Britten’s String Quartets’, Intimate Voices: the Twentieth-Century String Quartet , 2, ed. E. Jones (Rochester, 2009), 41–76
    • C. Roblin : ‘Les trois suites pour violoncelle seul de Benjamin Britten: une tradition revisitée’, Sillages musicologiques: Hommage à Yves Gérard , ed. P. Blay and R. Legrand (Paris, 1997), 235–45
    • C. Hurwitz : Tonality and Form in the First Movements of Britten’s String Quartets Opp. 25 and 36 (diss., Columbia U., 2002)
    • C. Wintle : All the Gods: Britten’s Night-Piece in Context , ed. J. Littlewood (London, 2006)
    Radio, film and theatre music
    • B. Wright : ‘Britten and Documentary’, MT , 104 (1963), 779–80
    • E.W. White : ‘Britten in the Theatre’, Tempo , no.107 (1973), 2–8
    • P. Reed : The Instrumental Music of Benjamin Britten: a Study and Catalogue of his Music for Film, Theatre and Radio (diss., U. of East Anglia, 1987)
    • La cosa vista (1988), July, 23–48 [symposium on Night Mail ]
    • P. Reed : ‘A Cantata for Broadcasting: Britten’s “The Company of Heaven”’, MT , 130 (1989), 324–31
    • P. Reed : ‘Britten in the Cinema: Coal Face ’, Cooke , D1999, 54–77
    • C. Dromey : ‘Benjamin Britten’s “Pierrot” Ensembles’, British Music and Modernism, 1895–1960 , ed. M. Riley (Farnham, 2010), 221–48
    • D. Crilly : ‘Britten and the Cinematic Frame’, Walker , D2009, 56–72

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Monthly Musical Record
Music & Letters
Contemporary Music Review
Musical Times
Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association
Music Analysis
Österreichische Musikzeitschrift
Journal of the American Musicological Society
Journal of Musicological Research
Journal of Music Theory
Opera News
Aldeburgh, Britten-Pears Library
Journal of the Royal Musical Association
Opera Quarterly
Musical Opinion
London, British Library
Cambridge Opera Journal
Music Review
Modern Music
Musical Quarterly
Washington, DC, Library of Congress, Music Division