Over at ArtsJournal, Terry Teachout has a posting up about his first encounter with Britten's music, which happened to have been the great Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings. I am reasonably certain my own first Britten was the Variations on a Theme of Henry Purcell, better known as the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.
But the second was very likely the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera performances of Death in Venice, the composer's last opera, which also marked one of the few Met appearances of the tenor Peter Pears, Britten's partner in life and music, for whom so much of Britten's music was written. I did not hear Pears again for many years after that, but the sound of his voice, individual as it was, stayed with me all that time.
I'm lucky enough to have a couple of great recordings of the Serenade, including the very first, with Britten, Pears, and Dennis Brain, and I've heard it performed live twice, with a third encounter to follow in June. In between, I've seen several of Britten's operas - my favorites are Midsummer Night's Dream and Turn of the Screw - and heard live Les Illuminations, the Violin Concerto, the string quartets, and of course the War Requiem, in a first-rate performance by Semyon Bychkov with SFS. On record I've heard a good deal more.
As to the Serenade - no disrespect to the Prelude or "Pastoral," but it's "Dirge" that kills me every time.
Most of my readers undoubtedly know at least some Britten. If not, dig in; his music is both extremely beautiful and deeply moving.