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Discovering Benjamin Britten’s Aldeburgh

June 10, 2019
Aldeburgh beach

Benjamin Britten (22 November 1913 – 4 December 1976), was one of the greatest English composers of the 20th century. His output was vast and he composed music for everyone; from children to professional musicians. His works include; Peter GrimesAlbert HerringNoye’s FluddeLet’s Make An Opera! Ceremony of CarolsThree Church Parables, Billy Budd and The Turn of the Screw.  Born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, he moved to Aldeburgh in 1947 and lived at Crag House, Crag Path, overlooking the sea. 

“I write music now, in Aldeburgh, for people living there, and further afield, indeed for anyone who cares to play it or listen to it. But my music now has its roots, in where I live and work.” Benjamin Britten (1964)

Britten lived and worked in Suffolk most of his life. Here, discover the landscape that inspired his music and take a walk around his beloved Aldeburgh.

The Red House

Britten’s success, and that of the Aldeburgh Festival he founded, made him so famous that by 1957 he felt he needed more privacy. In November of that year, he moved to The Red House with his partner Peter Pears, in an exchange for their home with their artist friend, Mary Potter. Located just outside Aldeburgh, The Red House is filled with an eclectic mix of styles and a stunning art collection.

“It is a lovely house, with a big garden all round, and I’ve made myself a nice remote studio where I can bang away to my heart’s content.”

The Red House, Aldeburgh

A visit to The House will not disappoint. It is presented as it was, based on a room inventory and recollections from people who knew the house at the time. It’s almost as though Britten and Pears had just left for a moment.  There is a lot to see and take in (your entry ticket is valid for one year), ranging from the rooms of the house, to the Composition Studio where Britten wrote Noye’s FluddeA Midsummer Night’s Dream and War Requiem. The Library is where you will find Britten’s concert grand piano surrounded by a huge book collection.

Benjamin Britten's library, The Red House

The Library at The Red House

Benjamin Britten's Composition Room, The Red House, Aldeburgh.

Benjamin Britten’s Composition Room

There is also a gallery where you can find out about Britten’s life through his compositions. The House also has a purpose-built archive, containing a fascinating treasure trove of artefacts, including unpublished compositions by Imogen Holst (daughter of Gustav Holst).

The Red House
Golf Lane
Aldeburgh
Suffolk, IP15 5PZ

Opening times:
1 March – 27 October 2019, Tuesday to Sunday, 1 – 5pm (Last admission 4pm).
Admission:
Adult: £8 (valid for one year)
Under 16s: free

Aldeburgh Beach

Imbued into Britten’s music is the sound of the sea and shingle of Aldeburgh Beach. Listen to the four sea interludes from Peter Grimes and you will experience the Aldeburgh shore in all its moods. With its line of pastel holiday villas and eye-catching architecture, this Blue Flag beach is dotted with fishermen’s boats and huts selling fresh fish.

Grab yourself some fish and chips from the Aldeburgh Fish and Chips Shop (be prepared for a long queue) and sit on the beach and look out to sea.

The Scallop

Walking north along the beach, just out of town, you will see artist Maggi Hambling’s tribute to Benjamin Britten, The Scallop.  Positioned on the windswept coastline which so inspired him, it stands 15 feet high and was built to withstand gales of up to 100 mph. Made by Aldeburgh craftsmen Sam and Dennis Pegg, It is engraved with a line from Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes:

“I hear those voices that will not be drowned.”

Since its unveiling in 2003, The Scallop has remained controversial with many local residents stating it spoils the beach. Take a look and you decide.

The Scallop by Maggi Hambling, discovering Benjamin Britten's Aldeburgh

 

The Moot Hall

This striking building on the seafront, once used to be situated in the centre of town before the invasion of the sea. Dating from the 1500s, it was built as a marketplace and meeting room. The prologue of Peter Grimes is set in ‘a room inside the Moot Hall, arranged for a coroner’s inquest.’

The Moot Hall is currently closed for renovation and will reopen during the summer 2019.

Discovering Benjamin Britten's Aldeburgh, The Moot Hall

Snape Maltings

In the early days of the Aldeburgh Festival, local halls and churches were used as venues, but in 1967, Britten and Pears created a permanent home at Snape, 5 miles from Aldeburgh, by converting the Victorian maltings into an 832-seat venue. Despite going up in flames on the opening night in 1969, Snape Maltings has become a centre for the performance and study of music. It is situated on the Alde estuary, set against a breathtaking expanse of reeds, water and sky.

Snape Maltings, Suffolk. Discovering Benjamin Britten's Aldeburgh.

“If wind and water could write music, it would sound like Ben’s.” Yehudi Menuhin

In addition to the concert hall, the redeveloped Victorian industrial buildings feature distinctive independent shops, cafes, and galleries. There’s a lovely walk from Snape to Aldeburgh called the Sailor’s Path. You can download a PDF of the walk here.

If you want coffee and cake, the best is located in the concert hall overlooking the marshes.

Snape Maltings,coffee and cake at Snape Maltings, Suffolk
Snape,
Saxmundham,
Suffolk, IP17 1SP

Free parking on site.

 

Benjamin Britten memorial window, Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh Parish Church

The opening concert of the first Aldeburgh Festival was held at this church in 1948 and it was George Crabbe’s poetry, a past curate of the church, that inspired Britten’s opera Peter Grimes.

Britten is buried in the church’s Lawn Cemetery. A simple slate headstone marks his grave, which stands next to that of his partner the tenor Peter Pears, who first sang the title role of Peter Grimes.

Inside the church, you will see the stained glass memorial window which was designed by John Piper and made by Patrick Reyntiens. It depicts Britten’s three church operas: The Prodigal Son, Curlew River, and The Burning Fiery Furnace.

Aldeburgh Parish Church,
Victoria Road,
Aldeburgh,
Suffolk, IP15 5DU.

Open daily.

 

Getting to Aldeburgh

By car:
From Norwich take A146 and then head towards Bungay on the B1332. Through Bungay pick up the A144 until you reach the A12. Head south towards Ipswich and turn off at A1092 (signposted Aldeburgh).
From Ipswich, head north on the A12 and turn off at A1092 (signposted Aldeburgh).
From Lowestoft, head south on the A12 and turn off at A1092 (signposted Aldeburgh).
From London, head north on the A12 and turn off at A1092 (signposted Aldeburgh).

By train:
The nearest train station is located at Saxmundham.

By bus:
Local bus services run to Woodbridge, Ipswich, Thorpeness, Framlingham and Leiston.

 

Photography by Vincent Oliver, photo-i

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2 Comments

  • Reply Nicholas Reed September 20, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    An excellent, knowledgeable and informative article, very well illustrated. And a lovely performance of the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes.
    But why on earth do you only use one photograph to illustrate 17 minutes of Britten’s music?
    You’ve got more than ten photos in the article anyway! So someone’s got a camera. Why not use a variety of photos of Aldburgh to illustrate the music?
    Come to that, why not a 17-minute film taken on the beach and use it to take up the mood of the music? If you can’t do it, I can!

    • Reply Debbie September 21, 2019 at 6:22 pm

      Thank you for your kind comment regarding this feature. I have made a note of your suggestion regarding the video clip of the Four Sea Interludes. This is a YouTube link, not my own creation. Your suggestion of doing a 17 minute video or Aldeburgh is indeed a very good suggestion, however, due to music/recording copyright issues with YouTube, this is not possible.

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