Thursday August 16 2018

During the open season at the Red House the Britten-Pears Foundation’s Archive is open to the public. Once a month we select a box of interesting items from our collection to show drop in visitors, known affectionately as the Box of Delights. Anyone is welcome to see this box in the Archive between 1pm and 5pm, Tuesdays – Fridays.

The Britten-Pears Foundation’s Archive is the biggest free-standing composer’s archive in the world. Britten never threw anything away, so the archive contains a wealth of items, including some from his childhood. This month’s Box of Delights takes a look at some of the archive’s holdings from Britten as a child.

The Collected Poems of Benjamin Britten

Not only a composer of music, Britten also dabbled in literature. In 1940, he produced a ‘Collected Poems’ which consisted of two poems, written when he was about 6 years old. As the title page makes clear, it was a pretty exclusive publication: ‘Limited Edition of One Copy’, it says. ‘This is no. One.’

‘The Collected Poems of Benjamin Britten’, title page. BBW/2/5/2.

Britten on the beach

We have an extensive collection of photographs in the archive, many of which come from Britten’s early life. This month’s Box of Delights has two, both taken when Britten was about 7, showing Britten with family and friends at the beach.

Britten was a keen swimmer, and would reportedly take a dip in the sea at Aldeburgh daily when he and Pears lived in the town centre. When they moved to The Red House, Britten had a pool put in – but, used to his daily sea dips, he insisted on filling it with cold water.

Photograph of Britten and Mrs Edith Britten seated on the sand against sea defences, 1919-1920. Photographer unidentified. PH/4/10..

Britten’s sketchbook

As well as his dip into literature, Britten also tried his hand at visual art. This sketchbook, from when Britten was ten years old, mostly contains pencil drawings of ships and the sea. Below you can see one of these sketches, a view of the Forth Bridge from North Queensferry, nr Edinburgh.

Page from Britten’s sketchbook, 1923. BBD/3/2.

The kitten smuged it

Before he was 16, Britten had composed about 700 pieces of music. Among them is a book of piano pieces, written out by hand but clearly designed to look like a printed volume. Although it is very neat, on one of the pages is an ink smudge. Diligently Britten has captioned this, with square brackets: ‘The kitten smuged it’ (sic).

Detail from ‘Twenty Four Themes for Waltzs’, p.65, 1925. BBM/twenty_four_themes_for_waltzs.

The Box of Delights is available for anyone to view in the Britten-Pears Foundation’s Archive between 1 and 5pm, Tuesdays – Fridays.