Thursday June 28 2018
Last month, I had the great privilege of joining the Britten-Pears Foundation team for a fortnight, undertaking a two-week cataloguing placement as the culmination of my Diploma in Archives and Records Management. Back in the early 1990s my then landlady introduced me to Britten’s music and I have been broadening my knowledge of it ever since. Consequently, although other students had placements assigned by the department, I was set on coming to Aldeburgh if it could be made possible. As daily travel from Kent would not have been realistic, I was delighted to accept the generous offer of accommodation on-site in Cosy Nook, the bungalow built for Miss Hudson, the retired housekeeper. I need hardly say that the very short commute through the gardens of The Red House was a marked improvement on my usual journeys to work.
Thirteen boxes of archive material relating to the singer Nancy Evans and her second husband Eric Crozier had been selected and, over two weeks, I was able to add more than a hundred entries to the catalogue. Much of this archive collection relates to Britten in some way, including the account of Britten written by Crozier (mentioned in Carpenter’s biography of Britten) in response to Imogen Holst’s appraisal of the composer which had failed to mention his sometime collaborator. The name Nancy Evans had been unfamiliar to me, but she was a prolific concert performer, as well as taking operatic roles (including Nancy in Albert Herring, which was written for her). From cataloguing, I learned that she not only went on to teach and give masterclasses, but collaborated with Eric both on writing libretto translations, and giving joint presentations about, for example, the Canticles. One personal item that stands out is the carefully preserved receipt for the couple’s honeymoon.
Somewhat in the spirit of last month’s Box of Delights theme (Blimey! Look who’s here!), I feel I should mention the presence of EM Forster. Materials relating to his contribution to Billy Budd were perhaps to be expected, but there is also an extended version of Forster’s appraisal of Crabbe, which, in an earlier version, published in The Listener, reached Britten in America and prompted his return to the UK and the composition Peter Grimes. There was also a less than festive Christmas card showing one end of Forster’s study, and the transcript of an oral history interview with Bob and May Buckingham centred around their relationship with Forster. This includes an anecdote about him mistaking the end of a concert for the interval and getting locked in the venue overnight!
In additional to wonderful memories from my working ‘holiday’ in Suffolk, I feel I have also left with a greater understanding of the physical setting of Britten’s life and work, and a new love for the Pears recording of the Nocturne which is able to transport me, in my head, to the Composition Studio. I would like to thank everyone who made my placement possible and made me feel so welcome in ‘some kindlier home’.