Friday 10 February 2017

Exploring Britten's Aldeburgh

The Red House and Britten's Studio © Philip Vile
The Red House and Britten's Studio © Philip Vile
On Wednesday (8 February 2017) I had an enjoyable awayday in Snape and Aldeburgh courtesy of the Britten-Pears Foundation. We had a tour of the exhibition Queer talk: homosexuality in Britten's Britain, which runs at the Red House, Aldeburgh until 28 October 2017 (see my review). Whilst there we were treated to a short recital by pianist Jocelyn Freeman in the atmospheric surroundings of Britten's library and a tour of the Red House, before visiting other places associated with Britten including the Aldeburgh Cinema (in which he owned shares and which has a programme of films complementing the exhibition), and Aldeburgh church. We finished our trip at Snape Maltings where chief executive Roger Wright showed us round and talked about the plans for the future (I will be writing an article about Snape shortly).

The graves of Britten and Pears - image by Tony Pick © Britten-Pears Foundation
Graves of Britten & Pears - image by Tony Pick © Britten-Pears Foundation
The Red House is the last of three which Britten had in the Snape and Aldeburgh area; in fact his first house was an old mill which overlooked the maltings, well before the idea of the concert hall germinated.

The Red House is an old red-brick farm house, Britten and Pears did not make any significant changes to the house, and the contents remain very much as they were when Pears died (including a well stocked drinks cabinet, a games cupboard, and cupboards of crockery). Now owned by the Britten-Pears Foundation, the house is opened to the public each year and the aim is to try to avoid a museum atmosphere and evoke the personalities of Britten and Pears, including the studio where Britten used to write (where you can listen to a talk given by Britten about the distractions of trying to write whilst staring out of the window!)

One notable sight is the art collection which seems to cover many of the walls.
Paintings vary from art done by friends, such as the local artist Mary Potter, to contemporary painters such as Duncan Grant, to portraits and even to significant paintings; the collection includes a Gainsborough and Constable, as well as having a William Blake and a Rodin in the Library. The Library was created by Britten and Pears in a complex of barns and is a striking mid-century interior, still with their collection of books.

The Library at the Red House - photo Philip Vile
The Library at the Red House - photo Philip Vile
Adjacent to the Library is the exhibition area, in a former swimming pool, and here there is a permanent exhibit as well as the temporary exhibition area where Queer talk: homosexuality in Britten's Britain is on display. The exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, and the works of Britten's in the display include Canticle One.

It was intended that we hear a performance of Canticle One in the Library, but illness prevented this and instead Jocelyn Freeman pulled together a lovely programme of piano music by Britten and Schubert, all the more memorable for being played on Britten's Steinway (one of three in the house!) and in his Library.

The Aldeburgh Cinema is 98 years old, and is the longest consistently running cinema in the UK. The cinema went through a difficult time in the 60s and 70s and was eventually preserved by being bought by the Aldeburgh community. Britten and Pears had shares, and these have now passed to the Britten-Pears Foundation. Cinema is complementing Queer talk: homosexuality in Britten's Britain with a programme of films throughout the year, including Victim, Cabaret, My Beautiful Laundrette, The Children's Hour, Bent and Who's Gonna Love Me Now?

Nearby is Snape church were able to see the graves of Britten and Pears, with that of Imogen Holst nearby. Inside, which was beautifully decorated with flowers, the John Piper-designed Britten memorial window stands out in vibrant colour from the remaining windows, which are either plain glass or Victorian glass. The memorial window depicts Britten's Three Church Canticles.

Queer talk: homosexuality in Britten's Britain, runs at the Red House until 28 October 2017. From 28 March the Red House itself is also open, and the Aldeburgh Festival runs from 9 to 25 June 2017.  In addition to the films at the Aldeburgh Cinema, the exhibition has an associated programme of events including a reading of the Wolfenden Report during the Aldeburgh Festival and a number of discovery session.

During the visit our inner men and women were not neglected, and being in Aldeburgh our lunch as fish and chips!

Elsewhere on this blog:

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