Monday September 30 2019
This month’s Box of Delights is themed around Britten and Pears’ school days given September marks the return of students heading back to school.
Our first items in the Box of Delights are Britten’s and Pears’ school photographs. The first image is of Britten at South Lodge School, in Lowestoft in 1924.
Our second photograph is of Peter Pears at Lancing College in Sussex. This photograph was taken in 1928, when Pears was a sixth form student. At Lancing, Pears participated in the Lancing Quintet as a pianist and sang in the Choral Society with his friend, Peter Burra. Burra was a writer and music critic, and later became friends with Benjamin Britten. Pears and Britten met in the mid-1930s through this mutual friend.
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Rudolf Wyss
Pears was given this novel as a school prize at his primary school, The Grange in Crowborough, Sussex. The book has been inscribed: ‘Peter Neville Luard Pears, for the Classical, English & Mathematical Prize, in summer term, 1918.’ Pears received further similar book prizes the following years from 1920-1922, for Classics, French and Maths.
Pears remembered his school days fondly, and as a young man, he briefly returned to the school as a school master to supplement his income, teaching music and classics.
Britten’s School Report
Also included in the Box of Delights is one of Britten’s school reports from South Lodge School, from the Christmas term, 1924. The report shows Britten’s best subjects at primary school were Geography and Algebra.
Most of the comments convey young Britten’s satisfactory progress although it is worth noting the slightly barbed remark for English Grammar: ‘Exam results were good seeing that he didn’t attend most of the lessons.’
There is no grade for music listed on Britten’s school report. He once said in interview that music in his preparatory school was restricted to the singing of a few songs. However, the 11 year old Britten had already started piano and viola lessons at home—and he was also composing large quantities of his own music at this stage.
Britten’s History Notebook
Britten kept his school notebooks and re-used them throughout his life to plan and draft operas and other pieces of music. As part of the war generation he abhorred waste.
One example is already on display in the permanent exhibition at The Red House: Britten’s German notebook from 1928 can be found amid the material about War Requiem. Britten used the notebook again in the 1960s to draft out his placing of Wilfred Owen’s poems against the Latin text for the Mass for the Dead. In the Box of Delights, we have included a school exercise book which was used by Britten in his history lessons at Gresham’s, from 1928-1930. Britten re-used the notebook in 1966 to plan The Burning Fiery Furnace singing parts and libretto on the spare pages.
The Grasshopper Magazine
In 1955, Britten was asked to contribute to Gresham’s school magazine, Grasshopper. His work appeared alongside other alumni including poets WH Auden, Stephen Spender and Lord Reith, the Scottish broadcasting executive who worked as the Director General for the BBC.
Due to the six year age gap between Auden and Britten, they never met during their time at school. They worked together in the 1930s for the GPO Film Unit, writing poetry and music for documentary films. Auden and Britten also collaborated on the operetta Paul Bunyan in 1941.
While Auden and Spender contributed poetry and Lord Reith contributed an essay to Grasshopper, Britten composed a piece of music. The piece was called Farfield 1928-1930, named after the house Britten was in at school. Britten left Gresham’s in 1930 after attaining a scholarship for the Royal College of Music.
The Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies
Following the success of the masterclasses held for singers by Pears in Aldeburgh from 1972, it became Britten’s and Pears’ dream to open a school, and to teach masterclasses for young composers and musicians.
The Britten–Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies was founded in 1977, and a new building was completed at the Snape Maltings in the autumn of 1978. In 1979, the Queen Mother came to Snape to open the site. The new building provided the necessary teaching and practice accommodation to offer a more varied programme of practical and academic courses for young musicians and singers. The masterclasses were taught by distinguished musicians. Pears continued teaching at the Britten-Pears School for the rest of his life.
The school is known as the Britten–Pears Young Artist Programme, which continues to provide training for young musicians today.