In 1964 Britten was given an award for his work in music. His acceptance speech was eventually published under the title On Receiving the First Aspen Award, but the original title was The Composer’s Place.
This is fitting: the speech considers both the place of the composer in society, and the environment Britten needed to create his work. It remains one of Britten’s clearest statements about his rootedness in the county of his birth.
This selection of material from the Britten-Pears Foundation’s archive looks at Britten’s relationship with Suffolk after his return from America: his embeddedness in the community, his fostering of the arts in the locality, his use of local places for subject material, and the county’s responses to being ‘the composer’s place’.
Return to Suffolk
‘Reading a most perceptive and revealing article … I suddenly realised where I belonged and what I lacked.’ On receiving the First Aspen Award, 1964
In 1942, Benjamin Britten reached a turning point. A chance encounter with EM Forster’s article about the Aldeburgh poet George Crabbe brought feelings of homesickness and rootlessness to a head. He and Peter Pears determined to end their three years’ stay in America and return to Britain. They came back to Suffolk and settled first in the Old Mill at Snape, which Britten had bought in 1937, then in Aldeburgh: from 1957 until their deaths their home was here at The Red House.
Works set in Suffolk
‘I am always … glad to get back to Suffolk. I think that my work shows this too.’ On receiving the Freedom of Lowestoft, 1951
By 1949, Britten had written three operas set in Suffolk: Let’s Make an Opera in Iken, Peter Grimes in Aldeburgh and Albert Herring in the fictional town of Loxford.
This section featured two items particularly linked with the county: a model of Peter Grimes’ Ellen Orford, who also shared her name with the town just across the River Alde; and photographs of Let’s Make an Opera, first performed in Aldeburgh at the Jubilee Hall.
Arts in the locality
‘I am first and foremost an artist – and as an artist I want to serve the community.’ On receiving the First Aspen Award, 1964
Britten and Pears founded the Aldeburgh Festival in 1947. They drew on a close circle of friends and collaborators to bring a range of the arts to their corner of Suffolk. The minutes for the first ever festival give an indication of the work Britten and Pears put into the festival.
Britten also wrote works for local amateurs: for the Aldeburgh Music Club, which performed at the Festival throughout the 1960s, and for the children of local schools, large numbers of whom performed at Orford in the first staging of Noye’s Fludde.
Supporting the area
‘You … accept me as one of yourselves, as a useful part of the Borough.’ On receiving the Freedom of the Borough of Aldeburgh, 1962
Britten and Pears were enthusiastic supporters of Aldeburgh and the surrounding area. As well as making donations to local clubs and causes the pair supported local businesses, including buying shares in Aldeburgh Cinema.
An active member of the community, Britten even drove Aldeburgh’s Carnival Queen in the 1959 parade.
The place of the artist
As well as the Aspen Speech Britten made several speeches about Suffolk: most notably when he was given the Freedom of the Borough of Aldeburgh, the town he chose to call home, and made a Freeman of Lowestoft, the town where he was born.
Suffolk has continued to celebrate Britten since his death, and our exhibition was rounded off with a selection of contemporary items about Britten – including Britten beers and ciders by Suffolk’s very own breweries, Adnams and Aspall.