Benjamin Britten was born today, November 22, 1913. He was an English composer, conductor and pianist. He was a central figure of 20th-century British classical music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. His best-known works include the opera Peter Grimes (1945), the War Requiem (1962) and the orchestral showpiece The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1945).
Born in Suffolk, the son of a dentist, Britten showed talent from an early age. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London and privately with the composer Frank Bridge. Britten first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work "A Boy was Born" in 1934. With the premiere of Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to international fame.
Over the next 28 years, he wrote 14 more operas, establishing himself as one of the leading 20th-century composers in the genre. In addition to large-scale operas for Sadler's Wells and Covent Garden, he wrote "chamber operas" for small forces, suitable for performance in venues of modest size. Among the best known of these is The Turn of the Screw (1954). Recurring themes in his operas include the struggle of an outsider against a hostile society and the corruption of innocence.
In 1937, Britten's lmother died, and he met the tenor Peter Pears. Although Britten was extraordinarily devoted to his mother and was devastated at her death, it also seems to have been something of a liberation for him. Only after that did he begin to engage in emotional relationships with people his own age or younger. Later in the year he got to know Pears while they were both helping to clear out the country cottage of a mutual friend who had died in an air crash. Pears quickly became Britten's musical inspiration and close (though for the moment platonic) friend.
In April 1939, Britten and Pears sailed to North America, going first to Canada and then to New York. It as during this time Britten and Pears consummated their relationship, and from then until Britten's death they were partners in both their professional and personal lives.
Britten died of congestive heart failure on December 4, 1976, at age 63.