Born in Suffolk on 22 November 1913 (propitiously, the feast day of St Cecilia, patron saint of music) Benjamin Britten began piano lessons aged five, composing songs for his mother by the age of ten. At 13 he began composition studies with Frank Bridge before entering the Royal College of Music in 1930. His documentary scores for the GPO (General Post Office) Film Unit brought him into collaboration with W. H. Auden, a liberating force, and in 1937 he not only attracted international attention with his Frank Bridge Variations at the Salzburg Festival, but also met the tenor Peter Pears, who would remain a lifelong partner and vocal interpreter.
Britten revitalised English opera with his first stage triumph Peter Grimes (1945), launching the Aldeburgh Festival three years later. He performed often as a conductor and pianist, and though he wrote a significant number of chamber and choral works (among them three string quartets, and the War Requiem, 1961) it is principally for his vocal and especially opera output that he continues to be remembered.