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B.Britten’s Music Impact on Composers Political Beliefs Essay

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Updated: Sep 10th, 2021


Benjamin Britten is one of the most talented musicians and music writers of the previous century. Moreover, he is one of those exceptional persons who managed to live completely and imaginatively the life he passionately desired as a child. Music writing was his most wanted occupation all through his life.

It is considered, that Britten attained something of that core in most of his compositions. Britten is regarded as a creator whose music conversed his genuine moral passions, his original realities in life. As these were not harmonious with the surrounding world, his music turned to be the language of an oracle, living on a delicate border between the Wasteland and the Ruler’s Court. The persuasive attraction of his music made it possible for Britten to wrestle this chain and be noticed by lots of people who previously opposed his notion. His themes, so significant to his own and nowadays’ world, were the maters of many prophets previous to him: aggression, unfairness, purity betrayed, the victim, and most of all, war.

As it may be regarded, Britten was a person whose influential governmental inclinations were overpoweringly antagonistic to the awareness of the society in which he inhabited and created. Britten’s personality was inextricably linked with augmenting that awareness, and musical creation was the transformative component that he used as a “third factor” to concurrently modify the world and personal identity — the work of individuation. War Requiem by Britten is a composition of great prettiness and strength; it is as well the mature production of his personalization procedure — an explanation, submission, and dispute to institutions and nations dedicated to aggression.

Musical work by Britten, particularly his War Requiem, is a powerful message to his society about the huge plague of War. It is perhaps simpler to see such an interpretative experience in those whose composing is policy- or ideology-related. The War Requiem may be regarded as Britten’s analog of the “I have a dream” speech.

Political beliefs

Britten’s wish throughout his life was to be a composer, and the safety he underwent about composing was rather profound. He was tremendously susceptible to censure; this was an addition of the living subject of unfaithfulness.

After studying work of art at the Royal College of Music, Britten had observed a rational home with other musicians — left-wing, lots of gays, some antiwar. This offered honest work and a possibility to enlarge his talents in programmatic masterpieces around governmental and societal subjects. The most important authority was the influential psycho-political effect of the experienced W. H. Auden and his conservative surrounding.

The significant Britten’s disjunction from society was his passionate belief in pacifism. His views about war and aggression were always at the front position of his creation. Pacifism in Britain was an accepted cause among adolescent scholars in the 1930s. World War I had brought an awful charge from British adolescents, and now the state was discussing the military reform. With the brutal patriarchy at it once more, the young composers and writers desired to shape their public ideas. Britten was included in this social movement, though his deep anti-violent convictions surely antedated it. He refused to take part in his school’s accepted officer’s instruction courses, and he wrote an emotional essay accusing hunting and unkindness to animals. His most prominent teacher and adviser, Frank Bridge, chased his antiwar views in normal discussions with Britten. What is enormously distinct is that Britten’s detestation of both communal and secretive aggression was an influential encourager in his creations, and that hatred directed rather than chased his melodious expressions.

Mainly because of his sights about the approaching war Britten pursued Auden and Isherwood (the ex-pacifist) to the United States in 1939. In the occurrence of the Nazi danger, twisting one’s back on an England balanced for war was a tremendously disliked act. Musical life, that Britten led, positively augmented from his communication with American composers. He restored his comradeship with Aaron Copland, with whom he got acquainted in London, and he met Boston Symphony Conductor Serge Koussevitzky, who charged some of his parts, comprising the opera Peter Grimes. But he was rejected by lots of inhabitants even as his music was magnetizing discern. Musical opponents in London neglected him for his antiwar attitude and “pusillanimous” self-exile, while reluctantly flattering some of his new creations.

Britten and Pears also experienced a deep nostalgia for their state. Tackled with definite war – started by German assaults in central Europe and helped along by Britain’s political agreement there – the youth were disgraced to leave England in such a period of necessity. In 1942, Britten and Pears came back home. By that time, the Atlantic Ocean was controlled by German U-Boats, and embassy representatives disheartened the journey. They would also have to appeal and be inspected by, an official committee to be approved careful grumbler position; otherwise, they would be imprisoned. Nonetheless, alongside the advice of most friends and followers, they came home.

Themes of music

Extracts from Britten’s declaration to the War Board give a picture of his confidences at twenty-nine years old:

“The whole of my life has been devoted to acts of creation (being by profession a composer) and I cannot take part in acts of destruction”. (Mitchell and Reed, Vol. 2, 1991, p. 1046)

I do not believe in the Divinity of Christ, but I think his teaching is sound and his example should be followed (Idem, fn.)

After some difficulties, his rather winding clarification of these beliefs led to a full thorough complainer grade. The man who came back to England had studied a great deal about the managing of the collective to affect his life. He also had studied how his melodic talent could be applied as a mace, for there was a bit of hesitation that his gradually more recognized skill as an originator was seen by officials as important to a state occupied by the enemy.

Britten had already worked at the opera Peter Grimes. Grimes, a fisherman who lives in the small village on a seashore of Borough, was blamed for abusing and murdering his young trainee boys by a society more antagonistic to his abnormal ways than his probable crime. Britten’s image of the personal fatality and the collective dupe is melodically influential and alarming:

Who holds himself apart, lets his pride rise.
He who despises us we’ll destroy.
And cruelly becomes the enterprise.

Britten desired to live most of his mature life in Aldeburgh, a lonesome fishing town on the sinister North Sea. There he disaffected himself from the musical and artistic society in London. There was a cunning self-acquaintance in this conclusion.

Probably most effective was his victorious attempt “not to hold himself separately” from the non-artists in the population within which he dwelled. He sought and gained the participation of the townspeople of Aldeburgh in every feature of his work, with the local choir.

Approximately twenty years exceeded before Britten made his War Requiem, finished December 20, 1961, and first executed in Coventry on May 30, 1962. Throughout those twenty years, Britten created most of his work.

Since the 1940s he had desired to create a major choral-orchestral piece — the average of which, at least in the Western melodious practice, is the Mass and particularly the Requiem Mass. Typically, Britten wanted to write on a peacekeeping theme. He had earlier created an oratorio, Mea Culpa, in response to the launching of the atomic bomb, and had previously thought of creating a Requiem in response to the killing of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1962, the commission supervising the renovation of Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by the Luftwaffe, asked Britten to compose and conduct a new work to note the re-consecration.

Choices by Britten were certainly shaped by information of the kind of voices he desired. But the internationalism of them was also a simple and profound effort to cure Europe’s injuries, features of his use of every constituent of the masterpiece and appearance of the Requiem to serve the better ethical intention.

Elements of work

Baudelaire once noted that “music cannot conceit itself on being able to interpret all or something with accuracy, as can drawing or writing. But music interprets in its own way and using denotes which are correct for it”.

Most composers, comprising Britten, are inclined to start their work with non-musical components, particularly when there is a programmatic prerequisite, as in an opera, or a structural necessity, as in a Mass. In getting prepared the words for the War Requiem, Britten clipped and corrected Wilfred Owen’s verses with great heed, and resisted to interweave their columns and phrases with words from the Missa pro defunct, the Requiem Mass. He structured the diversity of arrangements that he would utilize to organize and incorporate verses, music, choirs, and ensembles. The way he regarded the music he decanted into the non-musical arrangements cannot be decreased or regarded from a psychological point of view, and for that, his listeners can only be grateful.

Britten exploits a very detailed melodic tool, the tritone, the musical and ideological core of the work. This tritone gap, also known as the increased fourth or lessened fifth, is the period among the first and third consecutive whole tones in any scale: for example, the interval F-B, or C-F# (the first two notes of Bernstein’s song “Maria”, West Side Story). This pause has long symbolized an “exile” tone or “scapegoat” echo in the musical palette. The tritone was recognized as Diabolus in music and was excluded from use in church music throughout Middle Ages. Church leaders regarded it to be forefront considering it unsuited for Christian adoration. Of course, this “banned interval” also became a mythic outline tone which was very beautiful to dissidents. It was whispered to be used in “Black Sabbaths,” midnight masses, and other “unnatural rites.” though courageous composers steadily started using it in secular compositions; the tritone still keeps its atmosphere of shadow.

War Is Death without Rebirth

His reply comes rapidly and it is no revelation. The concluding association Libera Me starts with the roll of beats, armed forces thumps, and howling voices which, although in Latin, can only be spirits of skilled warriors. The listeners are back on the battleground, the location of murders, the place where, for Britten as a minimum, all matters about harmony must be revealed.

The music budges from application to an indication of the torture that is warfare the thumps once more, the splinter of flogs, the words from the Mass

Dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem
when thou shall judge the world by fire

That repeats of the real battle that killed these boys – soldiers. Listeners listen to echoes from an ethereal battleground, a position with no replies and no divinity. And abruptly, out of dregs of that dark epiphany, an individual voice starts singing the last and most well-known Owen setting, “Strange Meeting.” The poem describes two soldiers from opposite sides meeting in the combat zone. The first fighter, realizing nothing of his real condition, sings in recognizable tritone the excruciating sarcasm of refutation.

Britten borders these twisting feelings in extra melodic columns, beginning with the threatening tritone and slowly totaling other pauses, then lyric lines and melodies from other Britten anti-war parts. There is sorrow and also desolation as if there is no more to be performed or chanted. But there is more sorrow when we get to know that this duet is linking killer and killed:

I am the enemy you killed, my friend
I knew you in this dark…

The two rivals now both know they are killed. Deadly hostility strengthened by nationwide reasons and other illogicalities makes no dissimilarity. A Requiem Mass usually finishes on an optimistic note, so a sacred acquittal in the last bar lines is still probable. But we already realize that Britten will not present this fake anticipate. For these warriors in the furrows, sleep is but a concise break from the irrevocability of death; there is no way into unending life on that battleground. The male soloists go on singing “let us sleep now” while the boys’ choir and then the adult choir start the Latin burial text:

In paradisum deducant te angeli (May the angels escort you to heaven)

Any hope is held in this stunning group is unexpectedly congested by sorrowful bells and a long soundless rest. Twice more, the company starts and is stopped mid expression by the signals. Unenthusiastically, then more resolutely, the adult chorus begins to intone the requiem aeternam, the tritone-grounded chant from the first movement. Now the original words of hope:

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine (Rest eternal grant unto them, O lord?)

Are replaced by a new text:

Requiescant in pace. Amen (May they rest in peace. Amen)

The final musical sounds of the part, however, are the recognizable tritone pause resolving to an F major triad, creating an inquiry. Melodiously, expressively, religiously, and existentially we are left anxious, uncertain, our yearnings for any kind of lasting peace unstated except for Britten’s warning message to the world about War: a great originator, who spoke from the edge, the place of casualties and clairvoyants, understanding his reality to all of us.


  1. Britten, B. (1962). War Requiem, Op. 66. London: Boosey and Hawkes.
  2. Carpenter, H. (1992). Benjamin Britten: A Biography. New York: Scribner.
  3. Cooke, M. (1996). Britten, War Requiem. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Mitchell, D. and Reed, P., eds. (1991). Letters from a Life: Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  5. Time There Was … A Profile of Benjamin Britten (1980). Video 1158, Kultur.
  6. Clinch, Dermot. “War Requiem.” New Statesman 1999: 38.
  7. Gishford, Anthony, ed. Tribute to Benjamin Britten on His Fiftieth Birthday. London: Faber and Faber, 1963.
  8. Goslee, Nancy Moore. “”Soul” in Blake’s Writing: Redeeming the Word.” Wordsworth Circle 33.1 (2002): 18
  9. Seymour, Claire. The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion. Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press, 2004
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