Friday October 2 2020

Our Archive has been fortunate to be able to continue receiving items to add to the collections during the 2020 pandemic. As people sorted through their cupboards and drawers, decluttering their houses during lockdown, some discovered old programmes, photographs, magazines and letters which they have now kindly passed on to us. These are mostly items of ephemera which could be sent by post or handed over in a socially distanced way as The Red House opened its doors again, and all are great items which add to the detail of Britten’s life documented in our collections.

We received programmes for recitals by Britten and Pears – one at HM Prison Hollesley Bay, Suffolk, to celebrate the opening of their gymnasium in April 1952, and another in Blackpool in aid of war victims in March 1945 organised by the Friends Relief Service. We are certainly always pleased to fill gaps in our programme collection.

Concert programme in aid of war victims.

We also received a programme, photographs and press reviews of a performance of Paul Bunyan at York Festival in June 1980 by Archbishop Holgate’s and Queen Anne Grammar Schools. It is great to receive these as we hold very few programmes or photographs of productions of this work that is rarely performed.

Production photograph of Paul Bunyan in June 1980.

We also received items relating to solicitor and campaigner Isador Caplan – Britten’s principal legal adviser. We were given the Order of Service for his funeral in January 1995 as well as a written copy of the Appreciation given by Marion Thorpe at the service. She spoke about when her family, the Steins, first met Joan and Isador Caplan in ‘1940 sheltering from the air raids in the basement of 100 Cornwall Gardens’. She described how their friendship developed and how her father Erwin Stein introduced the Caplans to Britten during the war as well as the work Caplan went on to do for him.

Order of service of Isador Caplan’s funeral featuring Marion Thorpe reading the Appreciation.

We are also very pleased to have received items which previously belonged to Elizabeth Sweeting, general manager of both the Aldeburgh Festival and the English Opera Group in the late 1940s to mid 1950s. These included a page of music manuscript from Act 1 Scene 1 of Albert Herring in Britten’s hand – a revision ‘To replace from 9th bar after 4’. Sweeting’s items also included a very moving letter sent to her from Pears in early 1977:

Pears’ letter to Elizabeth, 1977.

The next page of Pears’ moving letter to Elizabeth Sweeting.

The ephemera received also included press cuttings and magazine articles including the November 1963 issue of Music and Musicians ‘Britten at 50’. Photographs received included an interesting one of the English Opera Group Orchestra, probably from the 1950s – we have many images of the singing cast on stage performing Britten’s operas but this is the first time we have seen a photograph of the orchestra who are usually hidden away from the camera.


Revised manuscript in Britten’s hand for Albert Herring.

We are delighted to add these items to our collections where they will be of great use to researchers, our exhibitions and sharing with our visitors.