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New Britten-Pears Archive and Studio open in Aldeburgh

(June 2013)

The new purpose-built Britten-Pears Archive and reconstructed composer's Studio have opened at The Red House in Aldeburgh.

The Britten-Pears Archive was officially opened on 14 June by legendary opera singer Dame Janet Baker. It has been built in the grounds of The Red House, Aldeburgh, the home which Benjamin Britten shared with Peter Pears from 1957 until his death in 1976.

The new archive building is the first major purpose-built composer archive in the UK. It follows a £4.7 million investment in this internationally significant heritage site by the Britten-Pears Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund which has included the re-creation of Britten’s composing studio in situ. The space freed up on the site has been used to develop exhibition and education facilities, which will enable the BPF to bring Britten’s life and music to many more people.

The Britten archive is the most comprehensive collection of any composer in the world. It tells the story of Britten’s creative and personal life in extraordinary depth and breadth, including manuscripts for over 700 pieces of music, diaries, 80,000 letters, countless photographs, recordings, films, costumes, set models, art, books and much more. In 2005 the collection was awarded Designated status by the MLA in recognition of its cultural significance.

Designed by Stirling prize winning architects Stanton Williams, the building achieves archive conservation standards through a pioneering low-energy design. The sustainable red brick archive building complements the listed Red House and gardens.

Richard Jarman, Director of Britten-Pears Foundation says:"To mark the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth the BPF has made a big investment in the site of The Red House, supported by the HLF. The resulting buildings will ensure that our unique collection can be kept in optimal conditions for generations to come and will bring alive to all our visitors what makes Britten one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. What we have at The Red House is exceptional – a rich and illuminating collection held in the very place where Britten lived and composed, with all its extraordinary spirit of place. It is destined to be a site of pilgrimage for music lovers all over the world."

> Read more on the Archive

In 2013, for the first time ever, the Studio where Britten wrote such masterpieces as the War Requiem is open to visitors. His desk, piano and other original items have been put back into the elegant first-floor room created for him out of a former hayloft next to the main house. 

Before moving to The Red House in November 1957, Britten asked the architect HT (‘Jim’) Cadbury-Brown to survey the property and consider options for a purpose-built studio in the grounds. Cadbury-Brown instead suggested converting this building, a former hayloft next to the main house. The studio was completed the following summer. It is clear that Cadbury-Brown took great care over details such as the acoustics and lighting, creating a space that suited his client perfectly.
The Studio restoration is based on Cadbury-Brown’s original project file and contemporary photographs. The layout is presented as it was in 1958, before Britten rearranged it in the early 1960s.

> Read more on the Studio

Photos: Hufton & Crow and Philip Vile

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