Archive collections

The archive documents the whole of Britten’s exceptionally productive life. The wealth of material includes music manuscripts of numerous pieces of juvenilia (composed aged 5-18), and almost all mature compositions. This is supplemented by diaries, letters, writings, programmes, press cuttings and other source materials. The development of any Britten work can be traced from initial thoughts to its performance history, including the perspectives of others key to the creative process: his partner Peter Pears as well as patrons, librettists, designers, producers and performers. Search the online archive catalogue for further details of our archive holdings.

The archive collections include:

Britten’s music manuscripts

Full score fair copy of Saint Nicolas, 1948

Almost all are kept at The Red House, ranging from his earliest pieces, written as a boy, right through to his final compositions of the 1970s. The development of many mature compositions can be traced from Britten’s preparatory sketches to composition drafts, fair copy, publication and post-publication revisions, to his own scores annotated for performance.

Libretto materials

William Plomer’s draft libretto for ‘Gloriana’

Draft librettos of Britten’s operas by Eric Crozier, Ronald Duncan, EM Forster, Myfanwy Piper and William Plomer, as well as unset librettos including items by Colin Graham and WH Auden. These texts often went through many revisions, with amendments made by both librettist and composer. Other sources include manuscript text sources for vocal works and scripts for radio dramas for which Britten wrote the music.

Correspondence

Letter from Britten to Anthony Gishford, 1958

Extensive correspondence to and from Britten, spanning the composer’s life, from boyhood letters Britten sent home from his boarding school to letters he received from the Amadeus Quartet in his final weeks. Correspondence with collaborators, friends and relatives is particularly extensive, as well as with companies such as Boosey & Hawkes, the BBC and Decca. The archive also holds correspondence to and from Peter Pears.

Papers of Britten and Pears

Page from Britten’s 1932 diary

Many other papers including diaries, drafts of articles, talks and speeches, financial papers, programmes and press cuttings. Britten and Pears kept all their paperwork resulting in comprehensive research materials being available on virtually every aspect of their life and work.

Related collections

Imogen Holst’s bookplate

A number of important related collections, representing a branching out from the Britten ‘hub’. These are manuscripts and papers of composers, librettists, designers, performers, producers and organisations closely associated with Britten. These collections add further insight into Britten and his works, whilst also providing research resources on the collaborator’s work not connected with Britten. Many of these collections include material relating to wider areas of British music in the 20th century, and to the broader cultural and artistic arena in which Britten lived and worked. These collections include papers of Imogen and Gustav Holst, Lennox and Michael Berkeley, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, Basil Coleman, Joan Cross, Nancy Evans, Eric Crozier, The English Opera Group and English Music Theatre Company, Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies and The Aldeburgh Festival.

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