Friday February 1 2019

As the graduate trainee for the Britten-Pears Foundation, I have been taking part in cataloguing more of the collection in the archive. This includes cataloguing huge amounts of correspondence alongside our volunteers; and we now have over 10,000 entries relating to Britten’s correspondence! Volunteers often discover programmes, press cuttings and other material amongst the letters during their cataloguing. One of our volunteers recently found the first three drafts of Britten’s contribution to a book on EM Forster, something which was not known to us previously.

In addition to this, letters regarding Britten’s awards have recently been catalogued. They include his letters from the National Academy, as well as letters from two Prime Ministers; Winston Churchill and James Callaghan, who nominated him for Companion of Honour and his peerage, which were officially awarded by the Queen.

A letter from Winston Churchill to Britten dated 13 May 1953.

Detail of Churchill’s letter to Britten.

Also newly catalogued and available online here are the personal papers of Anthony Gishford, Chairman of the English Opera Group. This includes descriptions of his English Opera Group papers, as well as his unpublished short stories, travel literature, poetry and autobiography. He also documented Britten’s life in a short, unpublished biographical article named ‘Britten Book’. As an English Literature graduate, one thing I found particularly interesting was his notebook filled with literary quotes from writers John Milton, Christopher Marlowe and some whom Britten was acquainted with; such as EM Forster and WH Auden.

Gishford’s notebook of handwritten literary quotes.

Gishford’s notebooks are filled with research for his professional and personal projects; including newspaper articles he had written about opera. His correspondence with the English Opera Group documents the Group’s close relationship with the Aldeburgh Festival and showcasing Britten’s music. Cataloguing these papers has helped me understand Gishford’s life and also Britten’s; and to have a better insight into opera during their time. I am sure it will help researchers develop a broader sense of this too.

Gishford’s article ‘Opera for Export’.

Our volunteers have also been working on cataloguing programmes, a project overseen by our archivist Judith Ratcliffe. Descriptions of programmes from 1955 to 1959 were newly uploaded to the online archive catalogue last week. These are mostly programmes for performances of Britten works and for performances by Britten and Pears. They cover performances in the UK, Europe and across the world, including countries such as Switzerland, Spain, Japan and India.

Programme cover for BBC Symphony Concerts for 1957.

Emma Blowers is the Britten-Pears Foundation Graduate Trainee 2018-2019.