Title graphic: Encyclopedia Entries
Britten: 3

Following the success of Peter Grimes and the tragic chamber opera, The Rape of Lucretia (Ronald Duncan, after André Obey, 1946), Britten, with John Piper and Eric Crozier, formed the English Opera Group (1947), which was subsequently responsible for the artistic direction of the Aldeburgh Festival (1948). The comic chamber opera, Albert Herring (Crozier, after Maupassant, 1947) was succeeded by Billy Budd (Forster/Crozier, after Melville, 1951), with an all-male cast, and, together with the chamber opera, The Turn of the Screw (Myfanwy Piper, after Henry James, 1954), continued to explore the theme, characteristic of many of his opera librettos, of innocence corrupted by evil. Sounds heard during a recital tour with Pears that included Java and Bali (1955), are re-created in the gamelan effects punctuating the ballet, The Prince of the Pagodas (1956), and a performance of the Japanese noh play, Sumidagawa, influenced the ethos and spare dimensions of the church parable, Curlew River (William Plomer, 1964), which heralds Britten's late style. Before this, however, both the full-scale opera, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Britten/Pears, after Shakespeare, 1960), and the War Requiem (Wilfred Owen, 1962) testify on the one hand to the richness and diversity of Britten's musical thought, and on the other to its seriousness of purpose, the requiem being an impassioned indictment of war.

Much of Britten's instrumental and vocal music was composed for particular performers, and his friendship with the Russian cellist and conductor, Mstislav Rostropovich (begun in 1960) was celebrated in the Cello Sonata (1961), three Cello Suites (1964, 1967, 1971) and Britten's only major orchestral work to follow The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1946), the Cello Symphony (1963). In 1967 the scope of the Aldeburgh Festival was enlarged with the building of the concert hall at the Maltings, Snape, and, although Britten's penultimate opera, Owen Wingrave (M. Piper, after James, 1970), another pacifist work, was written for British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television, his final opera, Death in Venice (M. Piper, after Thomas Mann, 1973), was first performed there. Britten was unable to conduct, having earlier in the year undergone open-heart surgery from which he never recovered fully. Only small-scale works were possible thereafter, most significantly the Third String Quartet (1975), linked both thematically and psychologically to Death in Venice, Britten seemingly identifying himself in the quartet with the opera's hero, Gustav von Aschenbach.