Benjamin Britten was born on November 22, 1913 in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England. He died at Aldeburg in 1976. His musical gifts were recognized early, and by age 21 he was a self-supporting composer writing music for film scores and radio plays. In his twenties Britten became involved in a group which focused on the works of W.H. Auden. The group’s views were based on a belief that the ‘ideal state,’ one in which everyone would be well cared-for and happy, was imminent. Britten’s ideals were brutally shattered by the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Nazism. In 1939 he fled to the US and then moved back to the Suffolk coast, where he preferred isolation to public fame. His opera Peter Grimes was a product of these years and brought his name to the forefront of world-renowned composers. His War Requiem is also one of the major 20th century choral masterworks.
Britten also had a strong love of poetry and an exceptional ability to express and color text with simple but unique musical fragments. His Rejoice in the Lamb is a classic example of this skill. His Festival Te Deum was composed in 1944. Its changing meter, 5/8, 7/8, 4/4, 3/8, etc. perfectly matches the word stress in the chant sung by the choir, while the organ maintains a steady 3/4 meter. The middle section is a lively and rhythmic call and response section between voices and organ. A solo prayer for salvation followed by the choral prayer for mercy concludes this choral gem.