20th century British composers

Malcolm Arnold

Arnold was born in Northampton in 1921. He was the principal trumpet player of the London Philharmonic Orchestra before focusing on composition. Arnold composed a wide variety of music and gained a reputation for writing film scores and light music. He composed music for the first film series of the St Trinians and won an Academy Award for the 1957 film The Bridge on the River Kwai.

A photograph of Malcolm Arnold conducting.
Malcolm Arnold

Arnold composed suites of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish dances. He wrote a great deal of chamber music including pieces for wind and brass quintet as well as works for brass band and concert band. His influences include works by late Romantic and early 20th century composers such as Sibelius, Berlioz and Mahler as well as the jazz genre.

Peter Maxwell Davies

A portrait of Peter Maxwell Davies.
Peter Maxwell Davies

Born in 1934, Davies wrote music in a wide variety of styles and explored medieval and Renaissance techniques, such as plainsong and chant. He was also influenced by serialism and expressionism. He moved to Orkney in the 1970s and his music demonstrated Scottish influences such as the pieces Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise and Farewell to Stromness. He composed ten symphonies and a number of string quartets, concertos and vocal works.

Benjamin Britten

A photograph of Benjamin Britten conducting at the Royal Albert Hall.
Benjamin Britten

Britten was from Suffolk and born in 1913. He composed music for a wide range of ensembles and is highly regarded for his contribution to orchestral and vocal music. One of his most famous orchestral works is The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, which is based off a theme by Henry Purcell – a composer from the Baroque period. Britten’s piece is a fugue and is frequently used to teach children about the instruments and families of the orchestra. Peter Grimes and War Requiem are regarded as Britten’s most famous operatic and choral works respectively.

John Tavener

A photograph of John Tavener sat in a church.
John Tavener

Tavener was born in London in 1934. His music had many religious influences and he was best known for his religious vocal works. Tavener’s conversion to the Russian Orthodox church in 1977 also inspired some of his later compositions. He achieved early success with his cantata The Whale, which tells the story of Jonah and the whale. His Song for Athene, featuring a SATB choir, was performed at the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997. A number of his choral works such as The Lamb are settings of poems by William Blake. His instrumental works include The Protecting Veil, which was written for cello and strings.