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Benjamin Britten

‘I am firmly rooted in this glorious county’

(Edward) Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft on 22 November 1913 (appropriately the feast day of St Cecilia the patron saint of musicians), the youngest of four children. His father was a dental surgeon and his mother an active amateur singer and pianist and secretary of the Lowestoft Choral Society.

He attended South Lodge Preparatory school where he was an excellent and enthusiastic sportsman and, in his final year, head boy. He moved to Gresham’s school in Norfolk for two years and in 1930 won an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London.

Page from “The Borough: a poem in twenty-four letters” by George Crabbe 1810 (SROI: 821/CRA)

Page from “The Borough: a poem in twenty-four letters” by George Crabbe 1810 (821/CRA)

After some years composing in London, including writing incidental music for the theatre, documentary films and radio features, he and his lifelong companion Peter Pears moved to America. While in California in 1941 Britten read E M Forster’s article on the 18th century Suffolk poet George Crabbe.  Britten read the poem The Borough which contains the tragic story of the Aldeburgh fisherman, Peter Grimes.

They returned to England in March 1942 and lived in Suffolk for the rest of Britten’s life, first at the Old Mill in Snape, then in Aldeburgh in a house where his desk overlooked the sea, later at the Red House on Golf Lane ( and finally Chapel House in Horham. Here Britten added a studio in which he composed his later works. He and Pears returned to Red House in Aldeburgh due to his failing health and he died there on 4th December 1976.

He was buried in his beloved Aldeburgh and among the pieces performed at his funeral were his own anthem A Hymn to the Virgin and the hymn All people that on earth do dwell as set in his cantata St Nicholas. St Nicholas had been performed in the church in 1948 at the first Aldeburgh Festival.