Thursday March 28 2019

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 to visitors, known as the ‘Box of Delights’. Anyone is welcome to see this box in the Archive, Tuesday to Friday at 2.30pm, 3.30pm and 4.15pm.

This month’s box is themed around the newly discovered and catalogued items we have found since we closed to the public in late October 2018. Over the closed season, our volunteers have been working hard to catalogue Britten’s correspondence, receipts and programmes, and adding them to our integrated catalogue.

William Burrell’s libretto book

William ‘Billy’ Burrell was a local Aldeburgh fisherman, and lifelong friend to Britten and Pears. He worked with Britten, EM Forster and Eric Crozier in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s during the writing of Britten’s opera Billy Budd. His papers have now been catalogued, and soon their descriptions will be available on our online catalogue.

A printed libretto book, gifted to Burrell after the ‘Billy Budd’ premiere and signed by Britten, EM Forster and Eric Crozier, producer and performers.

Barbara Burell, William Burrell’s wife, signed the copy of his printed libretto book.

His collection has correspondence between himself, Britten and EM Forster and press articles about Burrell and the writing of Billy Budd. The item we have chosen for this month’s box of delights from his collection is a printed libretto book, which had been gifted to him after the Billy Budd premiere. The book is signed by Britten, the librettists EM Forster and Eric Crozier, as well as the producer and performers from the first performance including Peter Pears, Basil Coleman, Theodor Uppman, Geraint Evans and Fred Dalberg.

Photograph of Britten with William ‘Billy’ Burrell, Burrell’s son and EM Forster.


As our volunteers have been working their way through cataloguing the correspondence, there was one letter that caught our eye. This was a letter from 1945, written by an individual named Donald Welch; and is likely the very first biography ever written about Britten, who would have been only thirty-three years old at the time. Welch had sent Britten this biography and intended to share it with his friends to get them interested in modern music. Amazingly, Britten replied and returned Welch’s biography with a list of corrections. One thing he was particularly keen in correcting was Welch’s idea that Britten was writing “tunes” at the piano.

Correspondence between Britten and Donald Welch.

Another item of correspondence that was catalogued recently are letters from the Ministry of Housing and Government in 1961. These letters are regarding the well at The Red House, and Britten asking for a larger water allowance after building his swimming pool here. When living in a house on the seafront in Aldeburgh, Britten would often swim in the sea, and built his own swimming pool when he and Peter Pears moved to The Red House. Today, his swimming pool is no longer visible, and is located underneath our gallery space.

Letters between The Red House and Ministry of Housing and Government in 1961.

War Requiem programme

Volunteers also contribute to cataloguing our extensive programme collection. We recently received a new programme in December that has been added to the archive. This is for the premiere performance of War Requiem in the Soviet Union, in Leningrad, on 25 December 1964, two years after its premiere in the UK. This programme titles the opera as Requiem instead of its official title War Requiem. This could possibly have been a response to the political tensions rising between the east and west.

Programme for premiere performance of War Requiem in the Soviet Union, in Leningrad.

The Box of Delights is available for visitors to view in the Britten-Pears Foundation’s Archive at 2.30pm, 3.30pm and 4.15pm, Tuesday to Friday.