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Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) is one of Britain's leading Composers of this century. His operas are considered among the finest of English operas since those of Henry Purcell in the 17th century, admired for their skillful setting of English words and their orchestral interludes, as well as for their drama and colorful characterization.
An outstanding pianist and conductor, Britten actually began composing at age 12. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London and worked as a composer for radio, theater, and cinema where he became a close friend of W. H. Auden. His first work for stage, the operetta Paul Bunyan, was performed in the United States and Auden provided the libretto. Britten served as artistic director, composer and conductor for the English Opera Group which gave rise to the Aldeburgh Festival founded in 1947. Aldeburgh soon became one of the most important of all English musical festivals and the center of Britten's musical activities. Britten's largest choral work is the War Requiem composed in 1962 based on the Latin mass and the poems of Wilfred Owen who was killed in World War I. The Ceremony of Carols, composed in 1942, is another excellent example of his mastery of choral work.
The Ceremony of Carols was inspired by Britten's discovery of The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems and was apparently composed in part while returning to Britain from the United States. The carols are largely the product of 15th and 16th century writers, most of whom are anonymous. They retain their unique flavor by Britten's extensive use of old English language in the style of Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales". The work was first sung by the Morriston Boys' Choir, conducted by Britten, at the Wigmore Hall in London in December, 1943. The immense popularity of A Ceremony of Carols led later to the SATB arrangement performed this evening.
2. Wolcum Yole!
3. There is no Rose
4a. That yonge child
5. As dew in Aprille
6. This little Babe
8. In Freezing Winter Night