Friday February 14 2020

Over the winter months, the archive team and volunteers have been busy creating new records for our catalogue, which are soon to be available to view online.

Among the items that have been recently added to our catalogue are the papers of Colin McPhee. McPhee, an American composer, ethnomusicologist specialising in Balinese music, and friend of Britten’s, collaborated with Britten in the 1940s and is credited with introducing him to the music of Indonesia. The pair met while Britten was staying with Elizabeth and William Mayer in Amityville, New York, during the Second World War. The collection consists mostly of letters sent by Colin McPhee to Elizabeth and William Mayer between 1941 and 1943, as well as copies of his published works, press-cuttings, and programmes.

A selection of letters from Colin McPhee.

McPhee’s letters contain descriptions of his stay at Yaddo, an artists’ retreat in New York, his time living in ‘February House’ that had also been home Britten, Pears, WH Auden, Gypsy Rose Lee and several others, and the writing of his books on Balinese music. They also detail many of his encounters and discussions with Britten, as well as meetings with Aaron Copeland and Carson McCullers, and contain vivid descriptions of McPhee’s daily activities, opinions, and – in letters addressed specifically to William Mayer, McPhee’s psychiatrist – his emotional and mental state. The letters are conversational and richly detailed, and provide an interesting insight into the life of one of Britten’s less celebrated contemporaries.

Also new to the catalogue are the papers of Norman Scarfe and Paul Fincham. Norman Scarfe was a historian and writer of Suffolk histories, a member of the Aldeburgh Festival council, and a frequent contributor to Aldeburgh Festival programmes. The papers of Norman Scarfe and his partner Paul Fincham, a history teacher and friend of Peter Pears, include correspondence with Britten and Pears, Myfanwy and John Piper, Jennifer Vyvyan, Rita Thomson and several others, programmes for significant Britten performances, and a file of snapshots of Britten and friends at The Red House probably taken by Peter Pears.

A sample of correspondence from the Scarfe and Fincham papers.

Our programme cataloguing project has also progressed significantly since the start of the closed season. Our team of archive volunteers have worked hard to catalogue all of our programmes for performances by Britten and Pears and performances of Britten’s works from 1965 to 1975. The collection holds programmes from Aldeburgh to Wellington, New Zealand, and in dozens of languages, including Norwegian, Japanese, and Estonian. All of our programmes up to 1971 are now available on the online catalogue, and the rest will be uploaded shortly. One interesting find from this collection is this programme for a Peter Pears and Osian Ellis recital at the New York Metropolitan Museum in November 1975, annotated on the back cover in Pears’ hand with the words to John Dowland’s ‘Sweet Stay a While’.

Annotations by Pears on the New York Metropolitan Museum recital programme, November 1975.


A selection of programmes our volunteers have recently catalogued.

Our volunteers have also catalogued over 850 Aldeburgh Festival photographs from 1975 to 1981. This collection includes photographs of productions, recitals and rehearsals as well as candid photographs of performers and the public enjoying the Aldeburgh Festival.

Britten, Pears, Rita Thomson and Murray Perahia in Aldeburgh, 1975.