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Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) lived and worked in Southold part of the time during the years he was here in America (1939-1942).


His arrival in America had an enormous impact on Britten, and the hamlet of Southold really stood out to him. In 1939, he became friends with the Rothman family who owned the local department and variety store in Southold. Britten and family patriarch David Rothman were a perfect match as they had a strong interest in classical music.


The Rothmans held weekly musical performances in their home that had recently included the likes of the noted physicist, Albert Einstein. Britten joined in quartets where Schubert was played while Peter Pears, his promising tenor friend, sang. In fact, Britten and Pears performed the original version of the song "Tom Bowling" at a recital at Southold High School on December 14, 1941.


Britten was instrumental in establishing a "Musical Advisory Board" for the Suffolk Friends of Music Orchestra in December of 1940. Douglas Moore, the respected composer and professor at Columbia University who summered in nearby Cutchogue, became chairman of the advisory board.

The years that Benjamin Britten spent on Long Island during World War II saw David Rothman about town regularly with the “soon-to-be-famous” British composer. Rothman arranged work for Britten and Pears, and also arranged for Benjamin Britten to be accompanist for the Southold Town Choral Society, which later became today’s North Fork Chorale.


Their exchanges were phenomenal and something neither Rothman nor Britten would ever forget. While here, Britten wrote a piece of music entitled "The Trees They Grow So High" based upon a Somerset folk song and dedicated to Rothman's son before the spring of 1942.


Britten returned to England shortly after his sojourn here and pursued composing what became some truly outstanding operatic and orchestral works. He helped to found the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948 along with Pears and Eric Crozier. Many of Britten’s works were first performed at that Festival.

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