Because Britten was a 20th century composer, I feel that it is necessary to break down his career a little further.

Britten's career can be broken into three periods:
  • The end of the first period is Peter Grimes (1945) which displayed that, without dispute, Britten had reached musical maturity.
  • The second period culminates with the War Requiem (1961); this period represents his largest body of work and the end of any serious developments or changes in style.
  • The third period, which could more easily be described as a sort of Indian Summer, was short and not as prolific as the others, but brought with it the Third String Quartet, perhaps Britten's finest chamber work.

After the War Requiem, the composer broadened his vision and became more experimental with color, orchestration, and an expansion of his already considerable technique. A major masterpiece of the form, his Symphony for Cello and Orchestra resides within this period.

The Symphony for Cello and Orchestra is often overlooked in favor of the War Requiem but the craftsmanship and emotional mastery contained therein cannot be denied. The Allegro Maestoso is massive for Britten and thoroughly explores the sonata-allegro form. The Scherzo contains wonderful counterpoint and a motif based on a third; this is telling to the keen ear because thirds dominate the rest of the symphony both in harmonic and within the development of the motivic statement.

Another interesting observation must be made about the advancement of Britten's orchestration. While it was not at all bad before the Cello Symphony, with it Britten displayed his considerable knowledge and talent for orchestration by solving the problem of the cello voicing. Cellos are always difficult to clarify within the the orchestra, and Britten took the simplest solution first: the upper woodwind and bass line are over-emphasized opening the middle voice of the orchestra to the cello.