Friday January 11 2019
Britten sponsored many musical groups, theatres, choirs and orchestras however his interests did not stop with music. The breadth of Britten’s interests spans from civil rights and freedoms, and campaigning against nuclear warfare, as well as the noise abatement of ice cream vans in Aldeburgh which disturbed his work.
Britten’s sponsorships can give an insight throughout his life, starting from boyhood. This includes letters from Gresham’s School, where Britten went to boarding school, as well as his interest in a group called the Migraine Trust, in which in a written interview the Trust asks Britten why he chose to support them, and his answer was due to suffering from migraines as a school boy.
A file for Churchfields School in West Bromwich contains letters from school children after seeing a performance of Noye’s Fludde. Letters to Britten say the opera ‘was better than sitting at home watching TV’ and a complaint from one child ‘it was alright except for the way the sun, the moon and stars were supposed to come out … it looked daft with three boys holding a pole with a piece of string’. These are accompanied by a letter from Britten saying that he was ‘very tickled’ by the responses.
These sponsorship files are a complete mixture of Britten’s life, including his international presence, both personally and professionally. For instance, there are letters from the Kalakshetra Silver Jubilee Committee, a group based on preserving Indian arts, presumably something that Britten became involved with during his trip to India. As well as this, there are letters from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, with letters regarding Britten winning 3 Grammy awards in 1963 for War Requiem. This includes his nomination letters, and a letter which says that Britten’s awards were picked up by a representative – although their current whereabouts is unknown.
Most interesting is Britten’s contribution to groups with missions of anti-war and anti-violence. The outbreak of the Second World War found Britten in New York, and registered as a conscientious objector when he returned to England in 1942. Amongst Britten’s sponsorships are Anti-Apartheid, the National Campaign for the Abolition of Capital Punishment and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which demonstrate his unwavering stance of war throughout his life. These groups were also sponsored by Britten’s contemporaries and friends, such as Spike Milligan in which Britten contributed to Milligan’s book Milligan’s Ark, Britten’s friend EM Forster who performed at the Aldeburgh Festival, and Michael Tippett, who is the topic of the forthcoming exhibition at The Red House. These sponsorship files show how Britten was forward-thinking, progressive and how willing he was to participate in these reformative groups.