Britten and Pears’ book collection comprises some 10,000 volumes and scores, all of which are kept across the site in The Red House, Composition studio and Library. The collection reflects Britten and Pears’ wide variety of interests and tastes. There are standard classics by Austen, Dickens, the Brontës, Hardy and James and works by later writers such Arthur Ransome (whose children’s stories caught Britten’s imagination), Mary Renault, PG Wodehouse, and their friend EM Forster. In addition to fiction and poetry there are volumes about music, musicians and art, as well as titles on topics such as philosophy, local history, religion, travel and pacifism.
Britten often made pencil annotations in the volumes from which he was working. Several of these books shed light on his compositional process of selecting poems for vocal works or passages of prose when adapting works of fiction into opera. These texts offer insight into the creation of a number of stage works such as The Turn of the Screw, Noye’s Fludde, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Church Parables in addition to some projects that did not come to fruition.
Between 1924 and 1933 Britten collected and individually numbered over one hundred miniature printed scores. This became the basis for a collection which now encompasses nearly all of his and Pears’ printed music; including a number of scores used for performance, many of which are annotated.
The book collection includes early editions of music by Henry Purcell, William Byrd and John Blow. This collection comprises over 700 individual volumes. The focus is predominantly on early printed music, but there are also treatises relating to practice and history, such as 17th and 18th century printings of John Playford’s Introduction to the Skill of Musick and Charles Burney’s General History of Music. Pears also added a small number of literary volumes; early editions of works by Samuel Johnson, Daniel Defoe and Charles Dibdin.
This collection is currently being catalogued and it is not yet available on the online catalogue. If you are interested in researching anything in the rare book collection, please contact us.