An Introduction to the Garden

Track 1 Transcript: The garden was one of the features that most attracted Britten and Pears to The Red House. They knew the gardens well, from the house’s previous occupants Mary and Stephen Potter who were friends of theirs; and Britten and Pears’ previous house on Crag Path had relatively little outside space. The garden is 5 acres in size, and surrounds the house from all sides. Standing in front of the porch, and facing towards the large chestnut tree in the car park, if you look right you can see both the former tennis lawn, and opposite it the croquet lawn, which leads up to the east-facing side of the house. The gardens also comprise a vegetable patch, a small orchard, and myriad other shrubs, borders, and trees. While not gardeners in a practical sense, Britten and Pears were very involved with the planting of shrubs and fruit and vegetables, and made great use of the garden for sport and for entertaining. They also collected sculptures, and there are a fascinating variety of these dotted about the lawns – such as a beautiful Roebuck at the far end of the croquet lawn and a sculptured Duck near the pond. Today, the garden retains its domestic character with typical cottage garden planting. Our garden manager has recently re-introduced plants that Britten and Pears were fond of such as delphiniums and incorporated new trees and shrubs to increase the diversity within the garden which reflects some of the places to which both travelled and performed. We recommend you go and find a bench, and soak up the views.

Five Flower Songs

Track 2 Transcript: A few years before Britten moved to The Red House he composed a beautiful choral work, Five Flower Songs – and here’s part of one movement of it to listen to while you enjoy the stunning array of colourful flowers in the garden. ‘The Succession of Four Sweet Months’, from Five Flower Songs

The Buildings

Track 3 Transcript: As you walk around the gardens, you can see various other buildings on The Red House site – these are marked on the map of the site which you can get from Reception. They date from different periods of the site’s history. The house itself has components from the seventeenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, reflecting its expansion from a modest farmhouse to a much larger operation – and including Britten and Pears’ own addition of a front porch. Britten’s composition studio, number 5 on the plan, was originally a hayloft, and the Library (number 3) a cow shed. Other outbuildings have been converted into the reception space and offices, and the gallery stands over what was an outdoor swimming pool. Number 7 on the plan is the Archive, constructed in 2013, and the most modern building on the site. Two other buildings can be seen on the plan but are not open to the public. One is Cosy Nook, to the right of the Archive, and through the vegetable patch. This was built 1972 as a retirement home for Miss Hudson, who had been Britten and Pears’ housekeeper for nearly 25 years. It was designed by Peter Collymore, who also designed the building at the far right of the plan with a pitched roof. This is Red Studio, built in 1963 for the artist Mary Potter, the former resident of The Red House itself. Both Red Studio and Cosy Nook are now used as accommodation for Creative Retreats: space and time for composers and other creative artists to stay on The Red House site to work on their artistic projects. Feel free to turn off this guide and wander around the garden at your leisure.

Britten’s Composition Studio

Track 4 Transcript: Britten composed some of his most well-known and evocative pieces of music while living at The Red House, such as the pacifist choral piece War Requiem, and the community opera Noye’s Fludde. The studio where he wrote them (marked number 5 on the plan) is not currently open, but you can stand below its window and admire the view Britten would have seen when composing. Many of the works composed here were to do with night, sleep and dreams – themes he’d often explored before, but particularly so at The Red House. The four extracts that follow are from these ‘night’ pieces: Nocturne, a song cycle for voice and small orchestra; the opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Night Piece for piano; and Nocturnal for guitar. Take a seat, and enjoy these stunning, nocturnal pieces.

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