Friday May 17 2019
After years of work undertaken by staff and volunteers, the cataloguing of Britten’s correspondence is finally complete. This is an amazing accomplishment that we are delighted to share with you. This project was created to tell us who Britten corresponded with, how many letters were sent, and what the date range was. In total, we have accumulated 11,181 records of correspondence. This is the approximate number of people who Britten corresponded with in his lifetime, and these are only the letters that that we know about! The earliest letter from Britten that we found was from 1922, sent when Britten was just 8 years old.
We have been steadily uploading the records onto our Integrated Catalogue and the names of Britten’s correspondents are now all available online for researchers to see. In previous years the correspondence of Peter Pears has also been catalogued, reaching a total number of 2,276 records. There are a huge amount of letters written to Pears and Britten; with almost 13,500 records between them. These letters are from friends, family and fans and are a great indication of their success and fame during their lifetimes.
Cataloguing Britten’s correspondence is significant because it gives us an insight into both his working and personal lives. We have records of correspondence between Britten and the people that he collaborated with, such as Imogen Holst, John and Myfanwy Piper, and Galina Vishnevskaya and Mstislav Rostropovich. Through these letters we are able to see the creative processes behind the development of Britten’s music and the close relationships he had with his colleagues.
We asked our volunteers whether they would like to share their thoughts on the project:
‘One letter I found amongst the correspondence which springs to mind was the letter from Spike Milligan – a new discovery. Another ‘find’ for me a few years ago was correspondence from Nehru in India which I found very interesting. It was a great privilege over the duration of the project to be able to handle and read some of this correspondence including private letters and papers showing that Britten had become over the years almost public property and was being pulled in so many directions when his work load was so unrelenting.’ – Gillian Berry
‘I was really pleased to come across letters from Willem Tausky who was a name from my childhood as a regular conductor on the BBC. I especially liked a letter from Iris Murdoch asking Britten if he would like to make an opera from one of her stories – he declined. Best of all was the correspondence from Wilfred Owen’s brother and a letter from a lecturer at Cambridge University recommending a promising student named John Rutter. It was a wonderful privilege to work on this project.’ – Pauline Young
‘I catalogued about 30 letters to Britten from his homeopath. The letters detailed how the tinctures the homeopath prescribed should be used and how they might alleviate specific symptoms. Ian Tait was mentioned in the correspondence. The letters give an insight into the kinds of minor (but probably not minor to Britten!) health issues that Britten was suffering from.
Also there are very touching letters between Britten and the mother of Noel Mewton-Wood, the hugely talented young pianist and close friend of Britten and Pears, who took his own life December 1953. Britten composed Canticle III ‘Still falls the Rain’ for the Noel Mewton-Wood memorial concert.’ – Sue Culley
We owe a special thanks to our volunteers who have dedicated many hours to working on this project: Anne Bartholomew, Gary Howard, Gillian Berry, Helen Colborne, Howard Picton, Mark Amos, Pam Wheeler, Pauline Young, Philip Reed and Sue Culley.