Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)


202101The Fourth 'b'?20210628Donald Macleod explores the early musical life of Benjamin Britten.

As a child, Britten’s mother was certain of his destiny: he would be a musician, and not just an ordinary musician. A childhood friend recalled that “quite often we would talk about the 3 B’s… Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.”

Edith was determined that her son Benjamin should become the 4th ‘B’.

Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge

LSO String Ensemble

Roman Simovic, conductor

Phantasy Quartet

Endellion Quartet

Nocturne (On This Island)

Barbara Bonney, soprano

Malcolm Martineau, piano

Ballad of Heroes

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simon Rattle, conductor

Suite for Violin and Piano

Tamsin Little, violin

Piers Lane, piano

Hymn to St Cecilia


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202102Britten And America20210629Donald Macleod follows Benjamin Britten to America.

Britten wasn’t necessarily intending to stay very long in the United States. The reception he got in Canada and then in Michigan, when he arrived in 1939, made him think that his future may indeed lie on the other side of the Atlantic.

But as time went on, despite American friendship and support, his feelings became more conflicted.


Della Jones, mezzo-soprano

Steuart Bedford, piano

Young Apollo for Piano and Strings

Peter Donohoe, piano

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simon Rattle, conductor

Violin Concerto in D minor

Sebastian Bohren, violin

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Andrew Litton, conductor

An American Overture

Ceremony of Carols

The Sixteen

Harry Christophers, conductor

Sioned Williams, harp

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

202103Peter Grimes Country20210630Donald Macleod explores the Suffolk landscape that drew Britten back from America.

It was a talk by EM Forster that did it. Although the ex-patriate Benjamin Britten wasn’t able to hear Forster’s talk on the wireless. He was then basking in the Southern Californian sunshine in Escondido, just north of San Diego, Somehow a copy of The Listener magazine reached him there: possibly his friend WH Auden had sent it from New York.

In it was Forster’s article about the 18th century poet George Crabbe who’d been born at Aldeburgh in Suffolk and whose poems were steeped in the atmosphere of that part of the east coast. A famous [poem of Crabbe’s],” Forster wrote, “is Peter Grimes: he was a savage fisherman who murdered his apprentices and was haunted by their ghosts.” Britten was immediately transported to the misty, salt-tanged shingle beaches of Suffolk, echoing to the lonely calls of sea-birds. He felt a pang of homesickness, of nostalgia, of recognition, a feeling of where he ought to be. It was an epiphany. Britten said later: “In a flash I realised two things: that I must write an opera, and where I belonged and what I lacked.”

Peter Grimes, Prologue

Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Benjamin Britten, conductor

Peter Grimes, “Old Joe has gone fishing”

Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House

Colin Davis, conductor

Four Sea Interludes

New York Philharmonic Orchestra

Leonard Bernstein, conductor

Dark Tower (extract)

Oliver Cromwell (Folk Song Arrangements)

Philip Langridge, tenor

Graham Johnson, piano

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

English Chamber Orchestra

Peter Grimes, “Embroidery in Childhood”

Erin Wall, soprano

Roderick Williams, baritone

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra

Edward Gardner, conductor

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

202104Our Own Festival20210701Donald Macleod looks back on the founding of Benjamin Britten’s music festival at Aldeburgh.

It was while travelling a long way from Suffolk, on their way to Switzerland, that Peter Pears is supposed to have said to Benjamin Britten: “Why don’t we have a festival in Aldeburgh?”

On the face of it, an eccentric idea to think you could have a music festival in that relatively awkward to get to corner of East Anglia, but the Aldeburgh Festival quickly established itself a great success. It rooted Britten ever more deeply in Suffolk, as well as providing an expression of his rootedness.

Albert Herring, “Albert the Good”

Christopher Gillett, tenor

Northern Sinfonia

Steuart Bedford, conductor

Saint Nicolas (excerpt)

Mark Le Brocq, tenor

BBC Concert Orchestra

Crouch End Festival Chorus

Coldfall Primary School Choir

David Temple, conductor

Noye’s Fludde, “It is good for to be still”

Coull String Quartet

Members of Endymion Ensemble and School’s Orchestra Salisbury & Chester

City of London Sinfonia

Richard Hickox and David Horlock (conductors)

Lachrymae (reflections on a song by John Dowland)

Kim Kashkashian, viola

Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra

Dennis Russell Davies, conductor

Canticle ii: Abraham and Isaac

Jean Rigby, soprano

Philip Langridge, tenor

Steuart Bedford, piano

Donald Macleod looks back on the founding of Benjamin Britten\u2019s festival at Aldeburgh.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

202105Continuity And Defiance20210702Donald Macleod explores Britten’s War Requiem and the composer’s friendship with cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

The War Requiem had actually been foreshadowed twice before. After the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1947, the writer Ronald Duncan had suggested to Britten that they collaborate on an oratorio, a piece that was to be called Mea Culpa. But there were problems over the commissioning of the piece and the idea foundered . The next year, following the death of Gandhi, Britten wrote to a friend saying how this had been a great shock to someone with his convictions and he was “determined to commemorate this occasion in, possibly, some form of Requiem to his honour. When I shall complete this piece I cannot say.” So when the Coventry arts committee approached him in the autumn of 1958, Britten was already primed.

The success of the Requiem made Britten a national figure as never before.

Nocturnal after John Dowland

Sean Shibe, guitar

War Requiem, Requiem aeternam

London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

Choir of Eltham College

Gianandrea Noseda, conductor

War Requiem, Sanctus

Toby Spence, tenor

Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

Lorin Maazel, conductor

Symphony for cello and orchestra

Mstislav Rostropovich, cello

English Chamber Orchestra

Benjamin Britten, conductor

Third Suite for Cello

Matthew Barley, cello

Death in Venice (excerpt)

Philip Langridge, tenor

City of London Sinfonia

BBC Singers

Richard Hickox, conductor

String Quartet No.3

Endellion String Quartet

Donald Macleod explores Britten\u2019s War Requiem and friendship with cellist Rostropovich.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.