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Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (c) / Victor Parker


When you talk about Suffolk and music, there is no greater name than Benjamin Britten. One of the major influences in 20th century music, he casts a long shadow across the pebbled beach of Aldeburgh and beyond.
Benjamin Britten at work (c) / Kurt HuttonBritten at work in his Aldeburgh studio
Photo (c) Kurt Hutton /
Born in Lowestoft in 1913, Britten began composing his first works at the age of five. He produced work prolifically and was discovered by composer Frank Bridge. Under Bridge, Britten gained the technical foundation that was to serve him so well in his career. He received a scholarship to the Royal College of Music when he was sixteen, though in his own words he “didn’t learn much,” partially because director Sir Hugh Allen and Professor Ralph Vaughan Williams never rated Frank Bridge.
His professional composing began with music for TV documentaries made by the General Post Office, where he became friends with the poet W.H. Auden. It was this friendship that led him and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears, to the US when Auden emigrated.
Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (c) / Hans WildBritten and Pears in front of Snape Maltings
Photo (c) Hans Wild /
However, Suffolk had already claimed Britten’s heart and, with Pears, he returned to his homeland in 1942 to live in Snape. During the voyage he wrote Hymn to St. Cecilia, and a year after his return he composed Rejoice in the Lamb.
As both Britten and Pears had registered as conscientious objectors they were exempt from the fighting in World War II. This anti-war philosophy is prominent in many of Britten’s works, notably War Requiem. It was first performed in 1962 and was acclaimed as the most impressive British choral work in over thirty years.
1948 was to prove a pivotal year in the history of both Britten and Aldeburgh when he founded Aldeburgh Music and the Aldeburgh Festival, alongside Pears and the librettist Eric Crozier. Britten’s way of giving back to the community that he loved, the festival began as a small collection of concerts performed in churches and halls around Aldeburgh, Orford, Blythburgh and Framlingham. By 1967 the Aldeburgh Festival had grown to such an extent that Britten decided to build the spectacular Snape Maltings Concert Hall, the opening of which was attended by the Queen.
The Red House Aldeburgh Suffolk (c) / Philip VileBritten and Pears lived and worked at The Red House in Aldeburgh
Photo (c) Philip Vile /
In 1957 Britten and Pears moved to The Red House in Aldeburgh, where Britten would stay until his death in 1976. The house is now open to the public, and has been restored to its 1960s self, exhibiting Britten’s works and effects.
Britten and his work were always influenced by Suffolk. Peter Grimes, one of Britten’s most famous compositions, was inspired by a poem written by Suffolk poet George Crabbe (and was also the catalyst for his return from America). He was continuously stirred by the local landscape, and much of his music was written with the local people in mind.
Inevitably, Suffolk was shaped by Britten in return.
His founding of the Aldeburgh Festival is a legacy that endures today, with the internationally renowned festival stronger than ever. The Britten-Pears Young Artists Programme has nurtured and financed contemporary young composers and performers for over forty years. Perhaps most importantly, he made people aware that Suffolk wasn’t just for farmers and holidaymakers, but a county for artists seeking boundless inspiration.


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