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The habit of music: Benjamin Britten 100 years on

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Posted: Friday, November 22, 2013 5:00 am | Updated: 11:52 pm, Thu Nov 28, 2013.

Remarkable poetry resides in the fact that Benjamin Britten was born on Nov. 22, since in the Christian liturgical calendar that date marks the Feast of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Even after he became a famous composer Britten didn’t make a big deal about it, although he did compose a choral Hymn to St. Cecilia in 1941-1942. The particular feast day on which he was born was in 1913, which means that Friday, Nov. 22, marks the centennial of that event.

Of course, nobody could have foreseen at the moment of his birth, in the resort town of Lowestoft on the Suffolk coast, that he would develop into a composer. The St. Cecilia coincidence probably would have escaped the notice of his father, a dentist with no musical proclivities, but it may well have crossed the mind of his mother, Edith, who loved music and would prove assiduous in steering her son, formally christened Edward Benjamin Britten, toward a musical path. In his new biography Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music, Neil Powell writes of the birthday fluke: “As if that were not omen enough, he was given the first name not only of his father’s young brother but, as Edith at least would have been very well aware, of England’s most eminent living composer, Edward Elgar, who in the preceding five years had produced a flurry of major works.”

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