Friday August 31 2018
Aldeburgh Carnival has been a staple of British Summertime on the Suffolk Coast for nearly 200 years. Every August sees local businesses and organisations rolling up their sleeves to put themselves to the task of building floats, making costumes and preparing to have a fantastic time. Come rain or shine, the Carnival is an event not to be missed – and 2018 saw the Britten-Pears Foundation take part for the first time.
Britten himself had ties with Aldeburgh Carnival. In the summer of 1958 the Honorary Secretary of the Aldeburgh Olde Marine Regatta and Carnival Committee wrote to the composer, asking him to perform an essential duty; ‘I am relying on you personally to drive the Carnival Queen and His worship the Mayor to the fair’. Britten was given clear instructions that on the day in question, 25 August: he was to leave the Moot Hall, with his two passengers, at 7.p.m., sharp. He must have been an admirable chauffeur (Britten’s love of cars and of driving is well-documented) because he was asked to repeat this official task again the following year. ‘I hope you will be able to manage this,’ Mr Cable wrote, ‘as you have an open top car and that we must have for this purpose’. ‘Mr Britten is not quite sure what his movements are going to be during August,’ wrote Jeremy Cullum, the composer’s secretary, in response, ‘but he will make sure that the car is available on August 24th to take the Carnival Queen to the fair, and one of us will drive it for you’. Britten was approached again in 1961, and although he was away from Aldeburgh at the time of that year’s Carnival he ensured that the car was again on hand to transport the Carnival Queen to her destination.
‘There has been an icy N.E wind’, Britten reported by letter to Peter Pears on the 17 August 1966, …which made the Carnival rather a strain, but there’s always some snag – some defect.’ Despite the drawback with the weather the composer was obviously delighted to see that two of his recent works, the two completed Church Parables Curlew River (1964) and The Burning Fiery Furnace (which had received its premiere performance just two months earlier), were not only featured as floats in the parade, but also gained accolades from the Carnival Committee. ‘The Carnival procession’, he wrote to Pears, ‘actually was rather fun – very long, & quite amusing – a very good Tableau of B.F. Furnace & a smaller ‘decorated pedestrian’ of Curlew River both winning 1st prizes. Fame at last!’
With 2018 being the 60th anniversary of Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludde we thought the Carnival presented the perfect opportunity to commemorate one of his most popular and enduring works. Carrying on the tradition of Britten’s operas inspiring floats, our team set to work acquiring a Land Rover and trailer from a generous local farmer and began to design and construct an ark. Taking inspiration from the original set design – the performance of which took place in nearby Orford Church – we had a plan of action and were raring to go.
The weekend of the Carnival saw all hands on deck – with staff and volunteers set to the tasks of assembling and painting the float, and raising the sail. Animal masks were also made and we enlisted the help of local families who regularly visit The Red House for our Mini Music Makers sessions to don masks and join us on the float. Christopher Hilton, our Head of Archive and Library, was a very grand Noye, accompanied by our Director of Public Programming and Learning, Lucy Walker, as a glamorous Mrs Noye.
It was wonderful to be part of the procession making its way down the high street, with crowds of excited holidaymakers and locals lining the way. Staff were on hand walking beside the float to collect money for local causes while the young families and the Noyes waved to the adoring crowds. After the procession we could kick back and enjoy the fireworks on the beach which drew the Carnival to a close. With everyone having such a good time the team is already looking ahead to the possibilities 2019 will bring.