Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was perhaps the greatest English composer of the 20th century. His most important contribution to English music was a revival of interest in native operas, which his works still dominate. However, his output ran the full gamut of mediums, including numerous song cycles, choral and instrumental works, and innovative music for amateurs and children. During his lifetime, Britten received numerous awards and honors, including becoming the first musician honored with the title of Life Peer in the Order of Merit (ironically, given the year he died). Britten's choral compositions were greatly influenced by the music of Henry Purcell, especially that composer's mastery of the verse anthem (the alternation between soloists for verses and choir for responsories). A Hymn to the Virgin (1930) is an ideal example of Britten's emulation of this form while adding his own distinctive imprint. Instead of the traditional verse-refrain form of the verse anthem, Britten has the full choir singing an English text and a solo quartet responding in Latin in close antiphony. The anonymous macaronic, or mixed-language, text is from the 14th century.
- Andrew Morgan