Benjamin Britten

Two of the works on our collaborative program with the Calgary Philharmonic Chorus were composed by the great British composer Benjamin Britten.

About Benjamin Britten

 Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Benjamin Britten
(1913-1976)

Benjamin Britten is perhaps one of the best-known British composers of the twentieth century. His early musical life was dominated by the classical masters; his mother's ambition was for him to become the "Fourth B" – after Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London and privately with the composer Frank Bridge.

Through his association with Frank Bridge, Britten discovered the music of Debussy and Ravel, as well as Schoenberg and Berg. At the same time, Britten developed a lasting hostility towards the English pastoral school represented by Vaughan Williams and Ireland, whose work he compared unfavourably with the "brilliant folk-song arrangements of Percy Grainger" (in an ironic twist, Grainger became the inspiration of many of Britten's later folk arrangements). Besides his growing attachments to the works of 20th century masters, Britten – along with his contemporary Michael Tippett – was devoted to the English music of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, in particular the work of Purcell. Britten was also heavily influenced by Gustav Mahler; Britten would incorporate many of Mahler’s popular tunes in his own compositions.

Britten's compositional output including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. His first opera, Peter Grimes, premiered in 1945 and brought him considerable notoriety; he would write another 14 operas, establishing himself as one of the leading 20th-century composers in the genre. In defining his mission as a composer of opera, Britten wrote: "One of my chief aims is to try to restore to the musical setting of the English Language a brilliance, freedom and vitality that have been curiously rare since the death of Purcell". In addition to Peter Grimes, Britten's operatic output includes well-known titles such as Albert HerringThe Rape of Lucretia, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

For our collaborative concert with the Calgary Philharmonic Chorus, we will perform Britten's Te Deum in C, and his Hymn to St. Cecilia.

Te Deum in C

The Te Deum in C is a sacred choral composition, a setting of the Te Deum on the English text from the Book of Common Prayer. Britten wrote it in 1934 between 11 July and 17 September, scored for treble solo, four-part choir (SATB) and organ. Hannah Pagenkopf, the soprano section principal for the Calgary Philharmonic Chorus, will be featured in this performance.

Hymn to St. Cecilia

Britten's Hymn to St Cecilia Op. 27 is an unaccompanied (i.e., a cappella) choral piece that sets the poetry of W. H. Auden. It was completed in 1942. For a long time Britten had wanted to compose a piece dedicated to St Cecilia. Firstly, he was born on St Cecilia's day; secondly, St Cecilia is the patron saint of music; and finally, there is a long tradition in England of writing odes and songs to St Cecilia.

The text itself follows in the tradition of odes, including an invocation to the muse: "Blessed Cecilia/Appear in visions to all musicians/Appear and inspire". Britten uses this as a refrain throughout the piece.

Luminous Voices will perform Hymn to St. Cecilia on its own; we will combine forces with the Calgary Philharmonic Chorus and organist Neil Cockburn for the Te Deum in C.