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ON THE MIND an introduction to

BENJAMIN BRITTEN The Red House, Golf Lane, Aldeburgh, Suffolk IP15 5PZ

by Chris Milton


Ben working on a manuscript, 1936. Photograph: by permission of the Lennox Berkeley Estate and the Lennox Berkeley Society

Guide designed by Simon Loxley. Printed by Fuller Davies.

was a composer. Many composers in the last century wrote music that was very complicated to listen to and required many highly skilled musicians to play and sing it. Benjamin Britten wrote music for everyone, he even said so himself. He wanted his music ‘to be of use to people, to please them, to enhance their lives’. People enjoy his music so much that he is now the most performed British composer in the world. He wrote music of all kinds and travelled all round the world performing it as a pianist and conductor. He was so famous that the BBC devoted a whole programme to him for his fiftieth birthday and he was the first musician in history to be made a Lord by the Queen. When he died he left behind over 1,000 pieces of extraordinary music and the fascinating story of a journey from Suffolk schoolboy to great composer.


growing up Edward Benjamin Britten (he didn’t really use his first name after he was about 14) was born on 22 November 1913 – which is also the day dedicated to St. Cecilia, who is the patron saint of music. He was born at home on the seafront in Lowestoft, Suffolk. His father was a dentist and the family home combined his dental surgery with the rooms for the family.


His mother encouraged music in the house and the young Ben (as he was always known) showed a huge talent for having musical ideas. As soon as he knew how he wrote down everything he could – lots of it. At school he was good at most subjects and also liked sport but he still found time to write more and more music. He constantly listened to music and started to learn about how music is put together and became more ambitious and use more instruments and ideas in his pieces – of course he couldn’t get

any of this music played!

Music poured out of him and we still have notebooks and pages covered in Ben’s childhood pieces that he kept. Some of them are not very good but they show how he was always inventing ideas and then developing and refining them. In 1928 he started to have lessons with the composer Frank Bridge who encouraged Benjamin to explore even more music, especially pieces that had been written more recently to their own times. Even though Ben was only fourteen, Bridge did not treat him like a child and he sat with Ben for many hours slowly playing over sections of his pieces and getting him to rethink and improve them.

Inside the mind of a Suffolk schoolboy

In 1930 he went to the Royal College of Music and set off from the life he knew in East Anglia to London. The young Ben didn’t really enjoy his time studying in London but he did like having the chance to hear lots of music and take ideas from it. Even though he only had two pieces performed whilst he was studying in London it was the time that he wrote his first adult piece called Sinfonietta, which he dedicated to Frank Bridge. He left the College in 1933 and with his training over he began to try and make a living as a professional composer. Ben’s initials carved into a wall at his school in Lowestoft.


Frank Bridge 1879–1941

Bridge was a well-known composer who wrote lots of music in many styles. His earlier music sounds very romantic but he became very interested in modern European music later in his life and this made some of his pieces very distinctive. Ben was ‘knocked sideways’ after hearing Bridge’s piece The Sea in 1927 and his viola teacher introduced them. Bridge became his composing teacher and he would spend long hours talking to him about music. Ben always remembered how much he owed to Bridge throughout his life and even worried that he never lived up to Bridge’s musical expectations of him!

What is it? A tone poem. A big piece for orchestra that is supposed to show different moods or images of things.

When was it written? 1927, in less than a month, when he was 13!

events like making of stars and the sun to the stillness and emptiness of the cosmos (outer space). He had to try to imagine what these ideas might sound like and how to use different instruments to make you think of certain things or images.

What does it sound like? What was it written for? His parents’ twenty-sixth wedding anniversary. He never heard it performed.

What is it about? This piece dates from the time when the young Ben was creating huge pieces for big orchestras. In this work he tried to conjure something that represented the vastness of outer space from the chaos of things that happen in

Considering he was just 13 when he wrote it this piece is seriously advanced. The chaos section has lots of fast rushing music that makes you feel on edge and excited whilst the cosmos section is very still and sounds quite mysterious. You can hear how well Ben paints pictures and ideas in sound and how useful that would be when he was later to write film music.


Both Ben’s parents, Edith and Robert, were born in Lowestoft. His father was quite strict and didn’t want the young Ben to be too fussed over. His mother moved away from Lowestoft after the death of Ben’s father and she died when visiting his sister in 1938. His sisters, Barbara and Beth, remained close to him throughout his life. His brother, Robert, taught music in Wales. Ben had five nieces and nephews: John, Alan, Sebastian, Sally and Roguey, who he always gave presents to.


BRITTEN in the

Ben initially found work with the General Post Office film unit. This was a group of artists and film-makers who were producing a series of documentary films (often with a political message) and employed Ben to write the music for them. As a result he met lots of young artists, writers and poets – the most prominent among them being the poet WH Auden. Largely due to Auden, Ben started to develop new ideas that were to play a large role in his music, especially about disagreeing with war – pacifism. At the same time that Ben, Auden and others were working making documentary films Adolf Hitler was rising to power in Germany and war started to become likely. The documentary films were produced rather quickly and because there were often limited amounts of money to spend on music Ben soon found he had to become fast and flexible in his creation of the right music for each film. Outside of his work at the film unit lots of Ben’s pieces were being performed but he was sad that many critics didn’t like his music – they said his music was too clever and didn’t have any real emotion in it. Despite this he continued to write more music and began to find a style all of his own. In 1934 he wrote a series of twelve songs for his brother’s school in Wales. These songs, called Friday Afternoons (that was when they had their singing practice), started a long process of writing music for schools and began Ben’s lifelong interest in music for young people and music education. In 1937 he met a young singer called Peter Pears who was to become the love of his life and very important to the music he wrote. He started to write music especially for Peter’s voice. As they worked others were getting ready for a war – Hitler’s Germany had started to make it obvious that war in Europe was inevitable. To find new professional work and, as pacifists, not being able to fight in the coming war, Ben and Peter decided to follow Auden and other friends to America.

What is it? A piece written to go with a documentary film.

When was it written? 1935–1936.

What was it written for? A film at the GPO film unit.

What is it about? The documentary film is about a train journey from London to Scotland that takes all the mail. The film follows its progress up the country from sorting and collecting to final delivery all in one

Two huge talents in one short film

W H Auden


Auden was one of the most significant poets and writers in the twentieth century. He was famous as a very clever man and published hundreds of poems in lots of different styles and exploring many ideas. His strong opinions and political ideas were a major influence on the shy Ben when he met him in the 1930s. They worked on documentary films and radio plays together before Ben followed him to America in 1939. Here they worked on many large-scale pieces but Ben eventually moved away from Auden’s influence as time went on. Auden’s reputation continued to grow throughout his life.

night. At the end a poem specially written by Auden is recited which is very rhythmic to sound like the moving train. It starts, ‘This is the Night Mail crossing the border, Bringing the cheque and the postal order’.

What does it sound like? Ben created a score that shows his talent for creating atmospheric film music. He uses special instruments to make the music sound like a

moving train – sandpaper scraped together and whistles and wind machines. Because he had to create something that sounded like it was moving forward and getting faster like the train in the film Ben made a lot of use of different rhythms – something he was to do throughout his life. Because of the limited money he could only use a few instruments but sometimes it sounds like there are lots due to Ben’s clever use of sounds and techniques.


Ben always liked fast cars. He used to drive his friends around Suffolk lanes very fast – he even had accidents occasionally. He liked to pick up young visitors from the nearest station at Saxmundham and rush them to Aldeburgh with the roof down! He said that buying nice cars was one of the few things that he spent money on for himself. He had a couple of Rolls-Royce cars and it was in one of these that the idea of the Aldeburgh Festival came to Peter. Later on he built a garage at The Red House to store his posh Alvis convertible in.

BRITTEN in America

When Ben and Peter travelled to North America in 1939 they did not know long they would stay or even how they’d live once they got there. After visiting various friends they settled in a small town called Amityville (in New York State in, appropriately, Suffolk County) with a family called the Meyers. The Meyers themselves had four children but Mrs Meyer seemed to take great delight in providing food and board for young struggling artists (Auden was to join them at the Meyers’ in time). The environment must have been cramped but very exciting. Ben continued to work with Auden and they wrote an operetta (a small light opera) together called Paul Bunyan. Much of the music in this piece is very tuneful and has lots of jazz influences that Ben had picked up in whilst in America. It was hoped that it would be performed in the big theatres of Broadway

in New York but the reactions to the first performances weren’t very good – people seemed suspicious of the talent of two young Englishmen taking on an American folk story like Paul Bunyan.

Three years passed and Ben began to feel homesick; he had written lots of music that had been performed but he felt that the American audiences had not responded as he would have hoped. He was always very keen to try new things in his music but it was still important that people would like his music and it hurt him when they didn’t. One day he read something in a magazine by the famous English novelist EM Forster that was about an eighteenth century poet called George Crabbe. Crabbe was from a small fishing town called Aldeburgh which was down the coast from where Ben grew up in Lowestoft. One of his poems called The Borough, had a fisherman character called Peter Grimes and all the reminders of Ben’s native Suffolk; its sounds, people and scenery convinced Ben that despite the risks involved in travelling across the Atlantic Ocean in wartime, he had to come home and make an opera out of this poem.



CAROLS What is it? A collection of Christmas pieces.

choir) in three parts and harp. All the pieces have Latin or medieval words.

When was it written?

What does it sound like?


This is a very tuneful piece and one of Ben’s most popular. The harp makes lovely rippling sounds and the distant sound of the opening (the boys are meant to walk into the performance) gives the music a dreamy feel. You can hear Ben experimenting with layers of sound – sometimes the parts are close together and sound squashed and other times the music is very spaced out.

What was it written for? Written on the boat back from America and dedicated to the lady who helped Ben and Peter with a home in London. Unusually it wasn’t written for a specific performer.

What is it about? Written for boys’ voices (but first performed by a women’s

Historic music that sounds brand new

Peter Pears 1910–1986

Peter was the most significant person in Ben’s life and his influence cannot be underestimated. They first met in 1937 and went to America together where they became musical and personal partners. Peter was a very good singer and Ben wrote music expecially for him throughout his life. They lived together from 1939, worked together to found the Aldeburgh Festival and travelled the world giving concerts. Most of the main roles in Ben’s operas were written for Peter and his first performances of them are now legendary. After Ben died Peter worked hard to continue his legacy and after he stopped singing taught and coached many young singers.


Ben with Peter in New York.

Ben always had lots of friends. When he was at school he had friends that he both played music with, and sport. As he became older he had lots of friends who worked in other creative areas (not just music). He knew many of the famous writers, artists, directors and musicians of the day. However, he always made time for ordinary people and especially children. He answered all his letters from young people who asked for advice about music. He used to invite people who were performing in the festival to the house to swim in his pool.



in the

When Ben and Peter arrived back from America they moved to an Old Mill in the small village of Snape bought in 1937. Ben had the mill converted and the designs were so interesting that they appeared in an article in a magazine about modern houses! The Second World War was still going on and they didn’t want to have to join the war so they had to officially register as ‘conscientious objectors’ which meant they would be able to carry on their musical lives without having to fight. Meanwhile Ben had not forgotten the poem he read in America and started to write his opera. The opera was a huge success when it was first performed in 1945 with Peter as the title character. Peter Grimes made Ben the most celebrated composer in the country and made the musical world take English opera more seriously than it had before. After writing such a successful opera Ben was much in demand as a composer and was asked to write lots of music. One of these pieces was to accompany an educational film about the instruments in an orchestra – this was The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and is still very famous today. Ben soon started to write another opera. However this time he thought it would be interesting to write it for a smaller group of singers and performers. It was performed at Glyndebourne (an opera theatre at a country house in Sussex). It was quite successful and the owner of the venue soon asked Ben to come up with another chamber opera. Now that Ben was becoming very famous he decided to move house. He found a large house right on the sea-front up the road in Aldeburgh where the poet George Crabbe had been born. One day when they were travelling back from a tour, Peter wondered why they didn’t just perform at home in a small festival in Aldeburgh with their musical friends playing in other concerts. So in the summer of 1948 the first Aldeburgh Festival was held and was an instant hit.

PETER GRIMES Peter Pears (second left) as Peter Grimes in the first production of the opera. Angus McBean Photograph (MS Thr 581). © Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Fear and mistrust in a small fishing community leads to persecution and death What is it? An opera. The story is told through singing.

When was it written? 1944–1945.

Who was it written for? For the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in America but first performed by Sadler’s Wells Opera Company in London.

What is it about? Peter Grimes is a fisherman who is distrusted by his town community after a young assistant dies mysteriously. He wants to become rich and respectable so he can marry the school teacher called Ellen Orford. Sadly another young apprentice dies in an accident; the crowd turns against Grimes and he goes mad, sinking his boat with himself inside.

What does it sound like? Ranging from sea shanties, big crowd songs and eerie solos this opera has something for everyone. In between the action Ben wrote interludes (pieces just for the orchestra) that are meant to sound like different aspects of the sea and coast. The story is set in a small town based on Aldeburgh and it is easy to see how Ben was inspired when standing on the beach there looking out to sea.

E M Forster 1879–1970

Forster was one of the most significant writers of the twentieth century. He wrote many different things including plays, short stories and radio scripts. He is best known for his famous novels like Howard’s End and A Passage to India. He spoke at the first Aldeburgh Festival in 1948 and became friends with Ben. In 1950 they worked on the opera Billy Budd together – it was the first time Forster (Morgan to his friends) had worked on an opera. The story included lots of thought-provoking issues and complex characters, which is just what Forster loved. He once summed up his world-view by writing ‘only connect’.


Ben liked simple food. He especially liked lots of food that he remembered eating as a child, ‘nursery food’. Things like rice pudding, trifle and steak-and-kidney pie were always favourites. He hated mushrooms and shell-fish and he once told a friend that he didn’t like tomatoes either. When he had his own house he always had someone to make food for him – for a long time it was a lady called Miss Hudson. Peter once said all Ben could do in the kitchen was ‘watch a piece of toast burn slowly’!

Photograph: Brian Seed

Photograph: Brian Seed Photograph: Hans Wild

Photograph: Hans Wild


BRITTEN in the

Because he had had such success with operas Ben was asked to write a big new opera for a national festival in 1951. This was called Billy Budd, which was performed in the Royal Opera House. Ben started work on another yet opera to celebrate the coronation of the new Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. When this opera, called Gloriana, was first seen it was a disaster and many people thought the music was unsuitable for a big celebration like the coronation. This upset Ben and made him want to write less for big occasions. Ben and Peter travelled a lot at this time. They toured the world giving concert tours together – Peter singing and Ben playing the piano. It was decided to make 1956 a rest year and to go on a very long holiday. Whilst Ben visited Bali, Thailand, India, Japan and Hong Kong he felt inspired by the new things he

heard and saw and kept lots of these ideas locked in his head so that he could use them in his own music. One piece of traditional Japanese theatre he saw gave him an idea that wasn’t used for another 8 years! Ben was fascinated by the way in which lots of the music in the Far East was written to be used by specific people and occasions – like his own music. As part of creating ‘useful’ music Ben was

really interested in writing pieces that could be performed by children and amateurs. As a result, when he was back at home in 1957, he wrote a children’s opera called Noye’s Fludde which is the story of Noah and his ark. This piece is full of parts for children and young people and Ben even invented a new instrument, mugs slung along a string that could be hit to sound like the rain failing. He was now so famous that living right on the sea-front meant that passers-by couldn’t resist peeping in through his windows. In 1957 they moved up near the golf course in Aldeburgh to a big old farm house called The Red House. Ben had an outside building converted into a small studio upstairs where he could work in peace and quiet. They stayed at The Red House for the rest of their lives.


Prince of the


What is it? A ballet. The story is told through dance.

When was it written? 1955–1956.

Who was it written for? The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden.

What is it about? A fantasy story about a king who has to chose which daughter to leave his kingdom to. He chooses the evil one and the good one, Belle Rose, is thrown out. She travels to the mystical land of the pagodas where she meets the Prince who has been disguised as a dancing salamander. They return to Belle Rose’s home where she is restored to her rightful kingdom.

Imogen Holst 1907–1984

Imo (as she was known to her friends) was the the only child of famous composer Gustav Holst who wrote The Planets. She was a very talented person in her own right and wrote music, made arrangements and conducted – she was also passionate about music education. In 1953 she came to Aldeburgh to work for Ben and help him write his music. She used to prepare all his music paper with markings and then turn his sketches into readable and playable versions. In 1964 she retired from this job but stayed in Aldeburgh and helped run the festival.

What does it sound like? The ballet is Ben’s longest piece written for just orchestra. Because the story is so fantastical and he had to keep the dancing on stage interesting the ballet shows Ben at his most inventive. Sometimes he uses big soaring tunes for strings that sound a lot like film music and at other times he uses small combinations of woodwind instruments to make specific sounds to bring certain characters to life. Due to his travels in the Far East Ben used lots of ideas that were based on the Gamelan music he heard in Bali. This is ritual percussion music that is very rhythmic and uses small repeated patterns to build up very thick complicated textures. Ben recreates these techniques with Western orchestral instruments in the ballet to represent the magical Pagoda land.


Although he liked being at home in Suffolk Ben always travelled a lot. Even when he was meant to be on holiday he often still used to perform his music or think about ideas for new pieces. Sometimes his trips abroad could last many months and all his letters home to friends tell us all about what he was doing and feeling. He travelled to over 40 countries in his lifetime and some places became especially important to him. He often used to stay in a castle in Germany with close friends but he said that Venice, Italy was one of the few places other than home in which he could really work.

Photograph: Nigel Luckhurst

A choice between good and evil, and a kingdom lost and regained through love


BRITTEN in the

In World War Two Coventry Cathedral had been dramatically destroyed by German bombs and a new cathedral was built and set to be officially completed in 1962. Ben was asked to write a big new work and the resulting War Requiem is one of his most important. The huge popular success (the album was a best-seller and won three Grammy Awards) shocked him in some ways and he perhaps felt he had used up a lot of his creative energy writing such a huge piece for so many people. As a result he started to change his style. Ever since lessons with Frank Bridge he had tried to use the least number of notes to express his ideas and after War Requiem he took that even further.



He remembered the Japanese play he had seen in 1956 and created a small and intense piece of music based on that idea. It was like a mini opera that needed very few singers and players and used a special performing style that he had seen in his

travels. Curlew River was the first of three ‘parables for church performance’ (as Ben called them) that all show his new interest in unusual sounds and using fewer and fewer notes to make the layers in the music clearer and clearer. It was for the festival in 1967 that Ben finally had his dream come true and managed to get a proper concert hall built – having had to make do for so many years with small halls and local churches. The new venue was built out of an old building used for malting (something that happens to make beer) and was down the road from Ben’s old mill house in Snape. The Snape Maltings was opened by the Queen and when it sadly caught fire two years later she came to reopen it after they had managed to rebuild it. Today the Maltings is a world famous concert hall and still hosts the main part of the Aldeburgh Festival each summer. People come from all over the world to enjoy music in the place that Ben had built at the festival that he and his friends started.

What is it? A setting of the Latin text of the mass for the dead combined with poetry by Wilfred Owen, a First World War poet.

When was it written? 1961–1962.

What was it written for? The dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral.

What is it about? Ben was a committed pacifist and this piece is his strongest statement of his feelings about the horrors of war. It’s a big and sad commemoration for all those who have died, suffered and lived through war – whichever side they’re on. Ben originally intended the three solo singers to be from England, Germany and

Russia to represent different countries involved in the Second World War.

What does it sound like? Ben created three different groups of singers and players in this piece – he actually wanted them to be physically separated. The big main orchestra and choir, along with a solo soprano (the highest type of voice), sing the Latin. At the back a boys’ choir are meant to sound like the distant voice of angels. Close to the audience a small group of players and two male singers deal with the often shocking Wilfred Owen poetry. The music is sometimes hugely loud but then is very quiet and still, but always very powerful.


‘The pity of war, the pity war distilled’

Mstislav Rostropovich was one of the greatest cello players of the twentieth century. He was born in Russia but performed throughout the world – he was passionate about sharing music with people and showing how good the cello could be. Many famous composers wrote music especially for him. He first met Ben in the early 1960s and inspired him so much that he wrote five major pieces of music for Slava (as he was known) to play. Ben and Slava became close friends and went to stay with each other at Christmas time in Suffolk and Russia.


Ben liked dogs and had many throughout his life. He had a dog called Caesar when he was growing up who went to live with him in Snape. After moving to Aldeburgh in 1947, Peter gave Ben the first of three Dachshunds (sausage-dogs) that he would own. First was Clytie who had a black puppy called Jove. Later Gilda came to live at The Red House with Ben and Peter. Ben used to take his dogs out walking with him after lunch when he used to Photograph: Brian Seed

think of his ideas – they were the only ones with him when he composed!

Photograph: Nigel Luckhurst



BRITTEN in the

Ben was always interested in new ideas and in 1970 he wrote a new opera especially for TV called Owen Wingrave. This meant that even more people could now enjoy his music as they didn’t have to travel further than their own homes to see and hear it.

As soon as Owen Wingrave was finished he started to work on a new opera. This opera, Death in Venice, was to be very special to Ben as it seemed to sum up a lot of things he felt about music and life – it was also to star Peter Pears in the big main role.

As the opera was planned Ben’s heart started giving him trouble and he was told that he should have an operation very soon to correct it but he waited until his opera was finished. When he finally did finish and had his operation in 1973 he was so ill resting afterwards that he couldn’t see the opera’s first performance which made him feel very unhappy as he was usually closely involved with performances and new productions.

The operation was not totally successful and afterwards he couldn’t play the piano or conduct. When he was staying in hospital he

met a nurse who he became friends with. Rita, the nurse, came to Aldeburgh and looked after him over the next few years. Peter was often away singing and Ben would anxiously

wait for him to return and they wrote many touching letters to each other at this time. After a while he realised he would probably not get any better but he still wanted to write music for people and his ideas continued to come to him. As he did not have the energy to


String Quartet

write big things he created several intense small pieces.

In the summer of 1976 it was announced that the Queen had decided to make him a Lord (the first musician in history to be made one) and he became officially known as Baron Britten of Aldeburgh – but he was still Ben to all his friends! He became very ill and by the time of his birthday in 1976 he asked Rita to arrange a special party so that all his closest friends could come and say goodbye to him. He died

in the night of 4th December in Peter’s arms.

Ben, now unwell and wrapped up against the weather, on a barge holiday. Photograph: Rita Thomson

Going forward, looking back and hearing new sounds What is it? A piece of chamber music written for a string quartet of two violins, a viola and a cello.

When was it written? 1975.

What was it written for? Ben had long promised to write another string quartet (his last was in 1945) – now, at the very end of his life, he found the time. It was written for the players of the Amadeus Quartet.

John and Myfanwy Piper John Piper (1903–1992) was a very famous artist who also designed stained glass. He got to know Ben in the 1940s and designed the stage sets for nearly all of Ben’s operas right up to his last one in 1973. His style is very unique and seemed

to match something in Ben’s music. John’s wife Myfanwy (1911–1997) was a very clever woman who went to

university at a time when few women did. She wrote three opera librettos (the words) for Ben and worked very closely with him when they were being written.

Ben and Peter went to stay at their farmhouse often and enjoyed Myfanwy’s famously good cooking!

What is it about? You can see how ill he was when you look at Ben’s manuscript, as it is covered with very shaky writing and shows how often he had to start and stop due to tiredness. The final section ends with a note that doesn’t quite fit – he said he wanted to end with a question.

The piece contains five different sections that each explore short tune ideas. In the last section (or ‘movement’ as the sections are properly called) Ben uses lots of tunes he used in his opera Death in Venice and seems to sum up lots of feelings that he had left over from writing that opera. Like lots of his late music there are sometimes very few notes on the page and the different parts for players often sound far apart.


Ben lived in lots of different houses during his life. He always had a London place to stay whenever he was there but this often changed a lot. The Red House, where he lived from 1957, is a big old farmhouse with winding corridors and a large garden. There was a

tennis court for Ben to play on and he and Peter built a special library to rehearse and

relax in. When Aldeburgh became very hectic later in his life and there was aeroplane noise from a nearby military base, Chapel House in the tiny Suffolk village of Horham became a favourite place to escape to.

Photograph: Philip Vile

What does it sound like?



The Britten–Pears Foundation was set up after Peter died in 1986 and looks after The Red House and Ben’s archive as well as acting as a hub for all interested in the life and music of Benjamin Britten. The archive is the biggest of any composer in the world and contains his original manuscripts, letters, diaries, receipts, designs, costume and much more – he never seemed to throw anything away!

Photograph: Roland Haupt

The Aldeburgh Festival, run by Aldeburgh Music, continues, based at Snape Maltings and top performers travel thousands of miles to this beautiful corner of Suffolk to play. The events put on now range from big concerts to days when young people can come and find out about all kinds of music and other things like art, dance and drama. Young professionals come to Snape to learn from established musicians in a scheme founded by Ben and Peter.

is probably the most performed British composer in the world. His operas are staged on every continent (except Antarctica!) and his music continues to be loved by people of all ages and nationalities – just as he would have wanted.

Benjamin Britten’s place is now amongst the famous and great composers. However, it’s still important and significant to remember his story – from being the son of a dentist in Lowestoft who liked to make up tunes on the piano, to world famous composer. More than thirty years after he died he is one of the most important cultural figures in the history of the twentieth century.

John Piper Variations on ancient seals (detail) John Craske KY114 WK414

John Craxton Shepherd and rocks

Keith Grant Norway 1964

© John Craxton Estate

courtesy of the Chris Beetles Gallery

Vadim Sidur Head

John Piper Seashore landscape (Shingle Street)

John Philip Souza The Agony of Christ © Estate of FN Souza. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

Spencer Gore The Haystacks, Richmond

John Piper Variations on ancient seals (detail)

The art works we have shown are all part of the collection collected by Britten and Pears throughout their lives. The majority of them can be seen hanging on the walls of The Red House, Aldeburgh.


Ben working on a manuscript, 1936. Photograph: by permission of the Lennox Berkeley Estate and the Lennox Berkeley Society

Guide designed by Simon Loxley. Printed by Fuller Davies.


ON THE MIND an introduction to

BENJAMIN BRITTEN The Red House, Golf Lane, Aldeburgh, Suffolk IP15 5PZ

by Chris Milton

Music on the Mind  

an introduction to Benjamin Britten

Music on the Mind  

an introduction to Benjamin Britten