Monday July 29 2019

July’s Box of Delights is themed around the summer holidays! In the archive, we have letters and postcards from Britten and Pears’ travels. In this month’s Box of Delights, we have included some of our favourite holiday-inspired material.

First edition of Holiday Diary (1935)

Cover of Holiday Tales book

Originally titled Holiday Tales when published by Boosey and Hawkes in 1935, Holiday Diary is a piece of music inspired by a visit to the seaside. In 1944, Britten drafted a programme note for the work (BBW/2/2/1/3) and described it as impressions of a boy’s seaside holiday, in pre-war days.

This published score belonged to Elizabeth Mayer, a woman whom Britten and Pears stayed with during their time in America in the late 1930s and early 1940s, before returning to England. The front cover of the score features a 1930s design, and Britten has signed and dated it March 1938. Britten travelled to America in 1939, and must have gifted this score to Mayer during his trip.

Page of Holiday Tales inscribed by Britten

Britten is known for his love of the seaside and would often go swimming in the sea every day. The first part of Holiday Diary is titled ‘Early Morning Bathe’ and is likely inspired by this.

We have recently loaned over 20 photographs of Britten to the Seaside: Photographed exhibition at the Turner Contemporary in Margate, Kent. Britten and Pears created a haven by the sea, inspiring many of Britten’s works, such as Billy Budd.

Pears’ passport and driving licence

Peter Pears' driving license

Britten and Pears travelled all over the world for their careers. They held recitals in the Far East and North and South America, as well as touring across Europe on several occasions. As well as professionally, Pears and Britten often travelled together for their holidays, and their passports are a record of their numerous travels.

This month we chose to feature one of Pears’ passports that he had from 1946-1951. Despite being valid for only five years, the pages are completely full with stamps and visas. This passport shows Pears travelled almost constantly from London to other European countries; mostly to France, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Peter Pears' driving license

In most letters and postcards home, Britten and Pears often mention driving on their holidays. We have included Pears’ driving licence issued on 1950 and renewed yearly until 1960, when it was renewed for 3 years.

Postcard to Joan Cross

Postcard to Joan Cross

In October 1955, Britten and Pears embarked on their five month tour of the Far East, and were joined by the Prince and Princess of Hesse and the Rhine during their trip to Bali. During their travels, Pears kept a diary documenting their way through Turkey, India, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan. Pears’ diary from this trip is on display in the permanent exhibition at The Red House and can be found in the World Famous case.

Joan Cross was a singer, director and teacher, who also ran Sadler’s Wells during the war. Britten and Pears worked with Joan Cross on several occasions; she sang in Britten’s operas as Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, Queen Elizabeth I in Gloriana and Lady Billows in Albert Herring. Britten and Pears had written to her on Christmas Day 1955, sending a postcard of the Taj Mahal, and telling her about India being a ‘fascinating and touching country’. Britten also remarked that there is ‘lovely music here’. Britten was very interested in music from the Far East and sponsored the Asian Music Circle, an organisation in London that promoted Indian and Asian music. (BBS/ASIAN_MUSIC_CIRCLE). Britten and Pears returned to India for a six week trip ten years later in 1965.

The papers of Joan Cross reside in the Britten-Pears Foundation Archive and have recently been catalogued. The record descriptions are available to view online.

Postcard to Billy Burrell

Postcard to Billy Burrell from Pears

Billy Burrell was a local fisherman who lived and worked in Aldeburgh. He was a lifelong friend to Britten and Pears after they worked together on the writing of Britten’s opera Billy Budd, with librettist EM Forster.

This postcard is from Britten and Pears’ trip to Switzerland with Imogen Holst on 21 Aug 1956. It seems they stayed in Castle of Tarasp and Pears points out their room on the front of the postcard. They tell Burrell that they have been on ‘walks and drives all around’ but because of the rain and cold weather, it is ‘just like Aldeburgh’.

Billy Burrell’s papers are also available in the Britten-Pears Foundation Archive.

Postcard from Frank Bridge

Postcard from Frank Bridge

Frank Bridge was Britten’s teacher and mentor. When Britten left England in 1939 for his trip to America, Bridge gifted him his viola so that Britten was accompanied on his ‘adventure’.

Bridge was staying in Baveno, Italy on 6 June 1933, and draws to his house on the front of the postcard. Bridge teases Britten in the postcard, ‘I’ll bet you couldn’t eat trinche sott’aceto’ (pickles), referring to Britten’s dislike of trying new foods.