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A Composer for All Seasons: Benjamin Britten

Along with today being Thanksgiving, it is also English composer Benjamin Britten’s 105th birthday. Around this time of year—and especially this year, as it is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I—it is common to hear performances of his War Requiem (BRM36125). That piece, premiered in 1962, was written as a commission for the dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral, as the older cathedral was essentially destroyed in 1940 during World War II bombings. Britten, an avowed pacifist, used the poetry of Wilfred Owens, an enlisted soldier who died shortly before the Armistice in 1918.

The War Requiem has arguably become Britten’s best-known composition; however it is one of his later compositions. Here are some earlier famous pieces you may be interested in:

Black and white photograph of Benjamin Britten, half-length portrait, conducting, facing right.

Benjamin Britten, half-length portrait, conducting, facing right. Photograph. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a45966

Peter Grimes (1945): This opera is based on George Crabbe’s collection of poems entitled The Borough, which takes place in a fictional town similar to the one in which Britten grew up. We have lectures about this opera by Albert Innaurato (DBM01453), Ann Thompson (DBM03216), and by Michael Barclay (DBM00789). We also have the libretto available in braille (BRM24865) and large print (LPM00575).

A Ceremony of Carols (1942): This choral piece is intended for Christmastide, and originally was written for children’s treble choir and harp. We have a treble arrangement available at BRM30503 and an SATB version available at BRM35958 (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Harp).

The Turn of the Screw (1954): This is one of Britten’s chamber operas, with the libretto by Myfawny Piper based on Henry James’ novel of the same name. We have a lecture about this opera by Ann Thompson (DBM03009) and a braille libretto available at BRM30061.

Billy Budd (1951): Billy Budd’s libretto was written by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier, based on the novel by Herman Melville of the same name. We have two lectures about this opera, one by Ann Thompson (DBM01711) and one by Michael Barclay (DBM00788). We also have two versions of the libretto at BRM30060 and BRM25699.

Friday Afternoons (1935): This piece is written for a children’s choir, and Britten specifically had the students at the Clive School (where Britten’s brother was headmaster) in mind. A few year ago, shortly after the centennial of Britten’s birth, we wrote a blog post about the new transcription we had just received. Be sure to check out that transcription at BRM35879.

Gloriana (1953): For the British royal family fans out there, this one may interest you! This opera’s libretto is based on the history and relationship of Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex. It was premiered during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. It was not considered one of Britten’s successes, and fell out of popularity until the end of the 20th century. We have the libretto available in large print at LPM00575 and a suite of choral dances at BRM22989.

We have much more by Britten in the collection, including many individual songs for voice and piano. Please contact us by email ([email protected]) or by phone (1-800-424-8567, ext. 2) BARD if you are interested in any of these titles! Or log onto BARD and download them for yourself. Happy Thanksgiving!

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: E (Part 1 – Ellington, Duke)

Continuing our series of American composers from A to Z, we come to the letter E. Personally, I can think of no better example than Duke Ellington. I consider him to be one of the first great quintessential “American” composers of his time, who wrote music in a true American idiom, rather than copying Western […]

Carnegie Hall of the South: Nashville’s Musical Legacy, Part 2

This is the second half of a two-part post on Nashville’s musical history and related books in the NLS Music Collection. Read the first part here: Athens of the South: Nashville’s Musical Legacy, Part 1. Nashville’s most famous music venue, the Ryman Auditorium, was completed in 1892 and was originally a church called the Union […]

Athens of the South: Nashville’s Musical Legacy, Part 1

Here in the Music Section of the National Library Service we are counting down the days until the National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals begins next month in Music City, Nashville, Tennessee! As I mentioned in my last article, I’ve been taking the opportunity to learn about the musical history of […]

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: D (Part 2 – Davis, “Blind” John and Dranes, Arizona)

Blind John Davis Blind John Davis was born in Mississippi in 1913, but moved to Chicago with his family at a young age.  He lost his sight shortly thereafter at age 9. He began to learn the piano as a teen, and later became a regular session musician for famous blues record producer Lester Melrose […]

Music City 101: NLS Heads to Nashville!

Last month country music legend Dolly Parton joined Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden in a presentation to celebrate the achievements of Parton’s book-gifting organization (video of the event available here). They announced that the Library of Congress Young Readers Center is partnering with Parton’s charity to provide a special series of story time events. […]

NLS Music Magazine Roundup!

The following is a guest blog post by new Music Reader Services librarian Lindsay Conway. Did you know that the National Library Service offers subscriptions to music magazines, free of charge to NLS patrons? The NLS Music Section produces Musical Mainstream, Contemporary Soundtrack, and Popular Music Lead Sheets. NLS also offers free subscriptions to five […]

Celebrating that “Parisienne Gaiety”

When I was a teenager, I began learning about classical music by listening to radio programs in the evening. Often the shows would begin with an overture or “light classic”, such as the Light Cavalry Overture (which our school band played), or the William Tell Overture (the “Lone Ranger” to me). There was also a […]

Back to School: Method Books Edition (Part 2)

Last week, we detailed method books in the collection for wind instruments. This week, we are highlighting method books in our collection for string instruments and percussion, with some jazz method books thrown in for good measure! If there is anything here that could be useful to you or your student, please don’t hesitate to […]

Back to School: Method Books Edition (Part 1)

Although for most of us it still feels like the middle of summer outside, it is time for many folks to begin thinking about back-to-school, and the new books and supplies for the year. That, of course, includes books for music classes, band, and orchestra. In the past, we’ve discussed books for college students, and […]