Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten

Britten was born in Lowestoft in Suffolk, the son of a dentist and a talented amateur musician. He began composing prolifically as a child, and in 1927 began private lessons with Frank Bridge. He also studied, less happily, at the Royal College of Music under John Ireland and with some input from Ralph Vaughan Williams. Although ultimately held back by his parents (at the suggestion of College staff), Britten had also intended to study with Alban Berg in Vienna. His first compositions to attract wide attention were the Sinfonietta (Op.1) and a set of choral variations A Boy was Born, written in 1934 for the BBC Singers. The following year he met W. H. Auden with whom he collaborated on the song-cycle Our Hunting Fathers, radical both in politics and musical treatment, and other works. Of more lasting importance was his meeting in 1936 with the tenor Peter Pears, who was to become his life-partner and musical collaborator. In early 1939 the two of them followed Auden to America. There Britten composed Paul Bunyan, his first opera (to a libretto by Auden), as well as the first of many song-cycles for Pears; the period was otherwise remarkable for a number of orchestral works, including Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (for string orchestra) and Sinfonia da Requiem (for full orchestra).

Britten and Pears returned to England in 1942, Britten completing the choral works Hymn to Saint Cecilia (his last collaboration with Auden) and A Ceremony of Carols during the long sea voyage. He had already begun work on his opera Peter Grimes, and its premiere at Sadler's Wells in 1945 was his greatest success so far. Britten was however encountering opposition from sectors of the English musical establishment and gradually withdrew from the London scene, founding the English Opera Group in 1947 and the Aldeburgh Festival the following year, partly (though not solely) to showcase his own works.

Grimes marked the start of a series of English operas, of which Billy Budd (1951) and The Turn of the Screw (1954) were particularly admired. These operas share common themes, with that of the 'outsider' particularly prevalent. Most feature such a character, excluded or misunderstood by society; often this is the protagonist, such as Peter Grimes and Owen Wingrave in their eponymous operas. An increasingly important influence was the music of the East, an interest fostered by a tour with Pears in 1957, when Britten was much struck by the music of the Balinese gamelan and by Japanese Noh plays. The fruits of this tour include the ballet The Prince of the Pagodas (1957) and the series of semi-operatic "Parables for Church Performance": Curlew River (1964), The Burning Fiery Furnace (1966) and The Prodigal Son (1968). The greatest success of Britten's career was, however, the musically more conventional War Requiem, written for the opening of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral in 1962.

In the last decade or so of his life Britten suffered from increasing ill-health and his late works became progressively more sparse in texture. They include the opera Death in Venice (1973), the Suite on English Folk Tunes "A Time There Was" and Third String Quartet (1975), which drew on material from Death in Venice, as well as the dramatic cantata Phaedra (1976), written for Janet Baker. Britten died of heart failure at his house in Aldeburgh, shortly after being made a life peer in 1976.

Choral Discography

Choir of King's College, Cambridge: Benjamin Britten

Hymn to St. Cecilia Op. 27
eremony Of Carols Op. 28
Missa brevis in D Op. 63
Festival Te Deum Op.32
Rejoice In The Lamb
Te Deum in C (1934)
Jubilate Deo

Captivating from start to finish: EMI has programmed & remastered this bounty of Britten choral work superbly. The Choir of King's College, Cambridge performs with stunning sensitivity, ethereal, heartbreaking & transcendent.

7973 CD $12.98

The Corydon Singers: Benjamin Britten

Rejoice In The Lamb
A Wedding Anthem
Festival Te Deum
A Boy Was Born

In the catalogue of Britten’s compositions those involving a chorus, often without instrumental or orchestral accompaniment loom large. They stretch right across his working life, beginning in 1929 and ending in the Op 95 his last completed score finished a few months before his death. The four pieces recorded here belong in the first half of that period, the earliest of them dates from 1933, the latest from 1949, perhaps his most productive period. Mathew Best, as usual, does a wonderful job bringing these works to life.

8671 CD $11.95

The Finzi Singers: Britten: Choral Edition Vol 1

Hymn to St Peter, Op. 56a
A Hymn of St. Columba
A Hymn to the Virgin
Hymn to St Cecilia, Op. 27
Rejoice in the Lamb, Op. 30
Choral Dances from Gloriana

This is the first volume of the Britten Choral Edition series. The recital opens with four masterful hymns that exhibit Britten's creativity, including the Hymn of St Columba (1962) and the Hymn to the Virgin (1930), which serve as testaments to the skill he possessed at age 16. The recording continues on to the frequently-recorded Rejoice in the Lamb (1943), the delightful Choral Dances from "Gloriana" and concludes with A.M.D.G. The Finzi Singers' Britten Choral Edition cannot escape comparrison to (if not competition with) the three-disc Britten set previously released by The Sixteen. In regard to the two series, as weighed in a review by Gramophone (August, 1998), "there is no clear-cut decision. Balance differs somewhat in the two recordings, The Sixteen having a fuller, more sonorous presence, the Finzis giving more prominence to the organ in accompanied items. Andrew Lumsden's contribution may indeed help to tip the balance further in the Finzis' favour for he is constantly bringing out something in colour or rhythm that adds flavour and distinction."

6876 CD $15.98

The Finzi Singers: Britten: Choral Edition Vol 2

Jubilate Deo
Te Deum
Antiphon, Op. 56b
Missa Brevis, Op. 63
A Wedding anthem, Op. 46
Sweet Was the Song the Virgin Sung
A ceremony of carols, Op. 28
Festival Te Deum, Op. 32
Jubilate Deo

The second installment of the Britten Choral Edition opens with the spirited and little-known Jubilate in E flat (1934), and gives great pleasure throughout. The opening of the Te Deum, for instance, is energetic in its precision. The opening of the Sanctus in the Missa brevis similarly bears an extra splendour of tone and movement. Sweet was the Song the Virgin sang (1931 and second term at the RCM) has an uncanny sureness of touch, and "Thou art the King of glory" erupts with color vitality in rhythm. The Missa brevis too gains with each listen, although Gramophone (Augsut, 1998) reminds of us to question of the use of women's voices instead of boys'. "Something is lost, even here, and going back to Britten's own recording of the Ceremony of Carols with the Copenhagen Boys' Choir (odd as they often sound to our ears) one again misses something distinctive on return to the ladies Ð whether of the Finzi Singers or The Sixteen."

6891 CD $15.98

The Finzi Singers: Britten: Choral Edition Vol 3

To Daffodils
The Succession Of The Four Sweet Months
Marsh Flowers
The Evening Primrose
Ballad Of Green Broom
St. Godric's Hymn
I Mon Waxe Wod
Lenten Is Come
The Long Night
Yif Ic Of Luve Can
Ye That Passen By
A Death
Theme: A Boy Was Born
Variation I: Lullaby, Jesu
Variation II: Herod-
Variation III: Jesu, As Thou Art Our Saviour
Variation IV: The Three Kings
Variation V: In The Bleak Mid-Winter
Variation VI: (Finale): Noel

Britain's Finzi Singers, under the direction of Paul Spicer, specialize in twentieth-century British choral music. This CD, the third in a series featuring an all-Britten program, includes one of his earliest works, written while he was at the Royal College of Music and experimenting with serial procedures: "A Boy Was Born." One of his last compositions, "Sacred and Profane," written the year before his death in 1976, is a cyclic setting of verse from the 12th and 14th centuries. Also included are "Five Flower Songs" (1942) and "Advanced Democracy" (1938, reflecting the political unrest in Europe). As is typical of contemporary classical, the sound can be tonally ambigious, stylistically discordant and disturbing, though expertly realized.

6471 CD $15.98

New London Children's Choir: Britten: Ceremony of Carols / Friday Afternoons

Friday Afternoons, Op. 7
Sweet was the Song
King Herod and the Cock
The Oxen
The Birds
Three Two-part Songs
A Wealden Trio: Christmas Song of the Women
A Ceremony of Carols

This album brings together some of Britten's most celebrated music for treble voices, accompanied and unaccompanied, ranging in period from 1929 (when the composer was still in his mid teens and a pupil of Frank Bridge) to 1967. " A triumph of the realist Britten" (Redlich) drawing largely on texts from Walter de la Mare's collection Tom Tiddler's Ground, Friday Afternoons (1933-35), the first of Britten's many works for children, was written for his schoolmaster brother, Robert and the boys of Clive House preparatory school, Prestatyn: choir practice used to take place on Friday afternoons. The twelve settings, with their witty piano accompaniments, belong to an England between two world wars, to an age of innocence, to a childhood time of Meccano sets and Hornby trains, of model boats and Arthur Ransome. These " enchanting fresh songs," Pears says, " a performance of which, given by well-trained boys and girls with their intelligent teacher at the piano, once heard is never forgotten". Their imagination and economy remains extraordinary. All are beautiful. Most are short. The last -Old Abram Brown - aspires to Wunderhorn Mahler (the slow movement of the First symphony). Together with Hymn to Saint Cecilia and Rejoice in the Lamb, A Ceremony of Carols, written "at sea, MS Axel Johnson March 1942" en route from New York to Liverpool via Boston and Halifax, Nova Scotia, helped establish Britten "as a master of English song"

7539 CD $15.98

Monnaie Children's Choir: Britten - Works for Children Voices

Three Two-Part Songs
Friday Afternoons op.7
The Golden Vanity op.78

The Children’s Choir of the Brussels Monnaie Royal Opera House give us here their first CD. It is the fruit of two seasons devoted to Benjamin Britten’s works, which culminated in December 2004 with superb performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We discover here an attractive selection of works for children voices composed by the British master, in committed performances by very young and refreshing voices (10 to 14 years old). From Beware, composed when Britten was 11, to Golden Vanity, a pocket-opera created in 1967 by the Wienersängerknaben via the delightful Friday Afternoons, the world of childness according to Britten will seduce the listener by the composer’s aptitude at alternating simplicity and complexity, violence and sweetness, smiles and tears in a refined miniature world. 51 minutes

8424 CD $15.98

Pacific Boychoir Academy: Benjamin Britten

Wolcum Yule
There Is No Rose
That Yonge Child
As Dew In Aprile
This Little Babe
In Freezing Winter Night
Spring Carol
Deo Gracias
A Hymn To The Virgin
A Boy Was Born
Lullay Jesu
Jesu As Thou Art Our Saviour
The Three Kings
In The Bleak Mid-Winter

The most accomplished choristers of Oakland, California's highly-regarded Pacific Boychoir Academy are the Troubadors, who join with The Pacific Collegium, a professional chamber ensemble that combines exceptional vocalists and instrumentalists, to perform three of Benjamin Britten's favorite Christmas pieces. The dramatic, powerful 12-part "A Ceremony of Carols" was written in the middle of WWII, the simple and fetching "Hymn to the Virgin" has been a Christmas favorite since he wrote it while ill in bed at age 16; and the 7-part "A Boy Was Born," was a student exercise by Britten published in 1934 that deals with the nature of innocence and childhood in the Nativity story. Led by director Kevin Fox, the Troubadors handle this eclectic, often difficult material beautifully, and the Collegium, directed by Christopher Kula, adds strong instrumentals and vocals to the mix. This is a lovely, very different kind of Christmas collection of pieces by a master composer.

8546 CD $15.95

Simon Phipps Vokalensemble: Benjamin Britten - Sacred and Profane

St. Godrie's Hymn
I Mon Wax Mod
Lenten Is Come
The Long Night
Yif Ie Of Luve Can
Ye That Pasen By
A Death
A Hymn To The Virgin
To Daffodils
The Succession Of The Four Sweet Months
Marsh Flowers
The Evening Primrose
The Ballad Of Green Broom
Shepard's Carol
Time And Concord
Country girls
Rustics And Fishermen
Final Dance Of Homage
Old Joe Has Gone Fishing
Hymn To St. Cecila

In its first CD-release, the Simon Phipps Vocal ensemble performs music written entirely by the greatest English 20:th century composer, Benjamin Britten. This is a tribute to the composer whose music influenced Simon Phipps already at an early age; his father was Britten’s agent. Britten’s immensely rich and varied choral production is reflected on this CD that spans from beauty to drama. The CD contains some of the composer’s most acknowledged compositions like A Hymn to the Virgin, Five Flower Songs and Hymn to Saint Cecilia, as well as the great suit Sacred and Profane with its vibrating vocals and racy medieval lyrics. It also contains the vocally challenging suit Choral Dances from the opera Gloriana. Enjoy Britten’s music performed by Simon Phipps’ excellent Vocal ensemble on this edition of Benjamin Britten’s choral music.

8535 CD $15.95

Polyphony: Benjamin Britten

Five FLower Songs
A Hymn to thye Virgin
Choral Dances from 'Gloriana'
Chorale after an Old French Carol
Sacred and Profane Op 91

Benjamin Britten is one of England's most revered composers of the 20th century. From operas to songs, he knew how to write for the voice. Well known for his works for children's voices, his writing for adult choirs is not as often performed. Polyphony, led by Stephen Layton, sings some of his great choral pieces. "Five Flower Songs," with texts by Herrick, Crabbe and Clare, range from the lush tones of "To Daffodils" to the harsher and stinging tones used to depict the more earthy plants described in "Marsh Flowers." Britten composed "Sacred and Profane" as a virtuoso display piece for Peter Pears' Wilbye Singers. The eight medieval lyrics are combined with difficult but exquisite harmonies to create amazing sounds.

7158 CD $16.98

Quink Vocal Ensemble: Benjamin Britten

Hymn To Cecilia
Five Flower Songs
Sacred And Profane
A Wealden Trio: The Song Of Women - Ford
The Sycamore Tree - Trad.
A Shepard's Carol - Auden

Acclaimed Dutch singers perform beautifully the unaccompanied choral works of Britten. Sung with intimacy and clarity the five voices of this top notch ensemble showcases these compositions in a different setting than the usual large choir performances of these works. Recommended.

8322 CD $15.98

RIAS - Kammerchor: Britten - Sacred and Profane

Sacred and Profane op. 91:
-St Godric's Hymn
-I mon waxe wod
-Lenten is come
-The long night
-Yif ic of luve can
-Ye that pasen by
-A death
Hymn to St. Cecilia
Part-Songs (Edward Elgar):
-Go, song of mine, op. 57
-There is sweet music, op. 57
-Love's Tempest, op. 73
Three Shakespeare Songs (Ralph Vaughan Williams):
-Full Fathom Five
-The Cloud-Capp'd Towers
-Over Hill, Over Dale
Two Unaccompanied Part Songs (Frederick Delius):
-I. Slow but not dragging
-II. Gaily but not quick
The Blue Bird (Charles Villiers Stanford)

From Elgar's Part Songs (1904) to one of Britten's very last works, Sacred and Profane (1975), here are some of the most beautiful and best-loved pieces in the English a capella repertory, many of them rarely recorded. All the composers here show the instinctive response to poetry, be it Shakespeare, Tennyson or Auden, so characteristic of the English tradition.

7014 CD $15.98

Saint Thomas Choir of Men & Boys: Choral Music of Benjamin Britten

Te Deum in C Major
A hymn of St. Columba
Jubilate Deo in C
Hymn to St. Cecilia, Op. 27
Prelude and Fugue on a Theme of Vittoria
Hymn to St. Peter
Rejoice in the Lamb, Op. 30

The 29 men and boys of New York City's renowned Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys present the choral music of British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). Included are "Te Deum in C Major," "A Hymn of St. Columba," "Jubilate Deo in C," "Hymn to St. Cecilia, Op 27," "Prelude and Fugue on a Theme of Vittoria," "Hymn to St. Peter" and the 7 movements of "Rejoice in the Lamb, Op. 30." Britten's compositions are brilliant, eclectic and difficult to perform, but they are handled beautifully and seemingly effortlessly by the Choir. There is some organ accompaniment. A fine collection of the works of a British master composer, by one of America's great all-male choirs.

7524 CD $15.98

Dale Warland Singers: Bernstein & Britten

Rejoyce in the Lamb
Antiphon for God the Father
Pilgrims' Hymn
Bat Yiftach (Jephthah's Daughter)
Chichester Psalms
Psalm 1082

The forty-voice choir, directed by Dale Warland, are known for their advancement of modern choral literature. This CD bookends works by Bejamin Britten and Leonard Bernstein, with several other composers - Stephen Paulus, Nancy Wertsch and Aharon Harlap among them - contributing. Britten's "Rejoice In The Lamb" (Op.30), is an exercise in contrast, with eerie chromatic dissonances and diminutive solo passages in marked relief to the organ-accompanied, florid crescendos of the chorus. Harlap's "Bat Yiftach" features a distinctive solo French horn motif, rebuked by an agitated chorus; the music from Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms" were actually exerpted from work the celebrated conductor had written for an unproduced Thornton Wilder play! With organ, percussion and harp, the result has several movements and is sung in Hebrew; moments of stark beauty are shattered by portentous discord, only to be relieved by a dreamlike peace.

Listen to Chichester Psalm in Real Audio.

6406 CD $15.98

Voci Nobili: Britten / Rutter

Benjamin Britten - A Ceremony of Carols, op. 28
Wolcum Yole!
There is no Rose
That younge Child
As Dew in Aprille
This Little Babe
In Freezing Winter Night
Spring Carol
Deo Gracias
John Rutter - Dancing Day - Prelude
Angelus ad virginem
A Virgin most Pure
Personent Hodie
There is no Rose
Coventry Carol
Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day

Voci Nobili’s second CD features British composers Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols and John Rutter’s Dancing Day. A Ceremony of Carols was inspired by “The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems”, and is written for treble voices and harp. The ‘carols’ are a product of 15th and 16th century writers, most of whom are anonymous. They retain their unique flavour by Britten’s extensive use of old English language in the style of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” The piece in its entirety shows Britten’s mastery of choral music, with each movement in contrast with the next. In Dancing Day, John Rutter employs the words and melodies of six traditional carols and resourcefully exploits their various rhythmic qualities in this cycle of for SSA voices with harp or piano accompaniment.

7859 CD $15.98

Sofia Boys' Choir: Britten & Pergolesi

Missa Brevis in D, Op. 63
Agnus Dei
Stabat Mater dolorosa
Cujus animam gementem
O quam tristis
Quae moerebat
Quis est homo
Vidit suum dulcem natum
Eja Mater fons amoris
Fac ut ardeat cor meum
Sanctus Mater, istud agas
Fac ut portem Christi mortem
Inflammatus et accensus
Quando corpus morietur

Founded in 1968 for boys ages 7 to 15, about 40 of which appear in concert, Bulgaria's SBC has been directed since 1989 by the talented Adriana Blagoeva. They released their first CD in 1981, "Britten" was recorded in 1993. The group has toured internationally, gaining a worldwide reputation for excellence performing a varied repertoire which includes Renaissance, Baroque, and Contemporary compositions by Bulgarian authors as well as large-scope cantata and oratorio works. This CD includes 5 works by Benjamin Britten (1913-76) and 17 by Giovanni Pergolesi (1710-36)Ñthe Britten pieces have some organ accompaniment and feature two female sopranos, and the Pergolesi ones are orchestrally accompanied and feature a mezzo-soprano. The voices of the boys soar clear and sweet, and the adult soloists are wonderful. Heavenly sacred music, beautifully performed!

6932 CD $15.98

Choir of King's College: Britten

Hymn to St. Cecilia Op. 27
A Ceremony Of Carols Op. 28
Missa brevis in D Op. 63
Festival Te Deum Op.32
Rejoice In The Lamb
Te Deum in C (1934)
Jubilate Deo

Review pending

7973 CD $15.98


A Ceremony of Carols

There Is No Rose
The Yonge Child
As Dew In Aprille
This Little Babe
In Freezing Winter Night
Spring Carol
Deo Grcias
Spring Carol

Written for SATB (or SAA) voices and harp (or piano), this popular christmas choral collection is perfect for your holiday concert.

9394 SONGBOOK $7.95 SATB
9393 SONGBOOK $7.95 SAA

Choral Dances from Gloriana

Time and Concord
Country Girls
Rustics and Fishermen
Final Dance of Homage

At the opening of Act 2 of Gloriana, Queen Elizabeth 1 is on a state visit to Norwich. After a formal address of welcome she is entertained by a Masque. To these unaccompanied Choral Dances, dancers representing Time and Concord, country girls and young rustics and fishermen all pay homage and tribute to the Queen

9177 SONGBOOK $12.95

Five Flower Songs

To Daffodils
The Succession of the Four Sweet Months
Marsh Flowers
The Evening Primrose
Ballad of Green Broom

Both beautiful and inspiring words and music with these delightful songs.

9176 SONGBOOK $15.95

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