The President’s Dining Room reached its capacity last Thursday as students, faculty and members of the community gathered for the International Studies Institute’s Hot Spot lecture series, “The Exile of Benjamin Britten.”
The lecture centered on the life and legacy of British composer Benjamin Britten, who was exiled from home due to his conscientious objection to war.
Britten remains to this day a world-renowned music composer and pianist who started his work at the age of 5.
The lecture given by Professor of History Kenneth Marcus made a point to connect the hardships Britten endured to his music he composed during the 1930s.
“Not only was exile critical in his development, but also I think it was a period on which he found his voice,” Marcus said. “That through exile he found home, and he found his voice.”
Britten was an openly gay man during a time when homosexual acts were illegal, and was often emotionally exiled from his peers. This reflected the nature of his music.
Among the attendees was Rodney Lehman, a La Verne College graduate of 1941, who shared Britten’s same conscious objections to war.
“The thing that sticks in my mind as much as anything about gay people, is any number of them was quite talented,” Lehman said. “You don’t look for artists in this crowd.”
Along with the lecture on Britten’s exile, the University has dedicated the past few weeks to all men who are noteworthy conscientious objectors.
Marcus continued on to say that Britten attended prestigious institutions for music and continued to grow in talent before even turning 18.
His work led him to connect with many influential people, some of who influenced his decision to exile himself from Britain to America.
“This was an extremely productive time for him as an artist,” Marcus said.
His decision to move back to Britain after three years in America proved well when he became flooded with countless opportunities in composition.
“Before this lecture I did not know very much about one of the most dynamic composers of the 20th century,” junior history major Kelby Scharmann said.
“Dr. Marcus did a thorough job of relating the influence that Britten’s exile had upon his music,” Scharmann said.
Britten was an established figure, commissioned to write works for state occasions and a man who was friends with royalty.
Among his many works, Britten was contracted in June of 1953 to compose a piece for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
“All that Britten accomplished in his life is astounding,” junior environmental biology major, Cynthia Rodriguez, said.
“Before this, I didn’t understand the stance that this university has taken on peace, and that our beliefs as an institution for decades have derived from the same beliefs as men like Britten.”
Britten continued to write countless operas, stage plays and music until his death in 1976.
This year marks the centennial anniversary of Britten’s birth. His work and his life is being honored all over the world.
Alana Glenn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.