A new archive housing the world’s most comprehensive collection of Benjamin Britten’s work has opened in the grounds of the Red House, Aldeburgh. Opera singer Dame Janet Baker today officially opens the building, which is the result of a £4.7m investment from the Britten-Pears Foundation (BPF) and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Britten lived and worked in the Red House, which he shared with Peter Pears for the last two decades of his life. The new building is part of the BPF’s plans to mark the composer’s centenary, and is the first major purpose-built composer archive in the UK.
Richard Jarman, Director of the BPF, said: ‘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.’
As well as a recreation of Britten’s composing studio, the site houses the majority of his original manuscripts, an extensive collection of correspondence, recordings, photographs, artworks and more. Alongside the archive, an interactive exhibition features objects and documents from the BPF’s extensive collections. Exhibits include replicas of the animal headdresses from Noye’s Fludde, which visitors can try on.
The space freed up on the rest of the site will be used to develop further exhibitions and educational facilities, with the aim of bringing Britten’s life and music to a wider audience.
Dame Jenny Abramsky, chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: ‘We have played a major role in funding a number of elements of this innovative project and particularly applaud the Britten-Pears Foundation for its plans to widen the appeal of the site to visitors, both tourists and those living more locally. Britten, meritocratic to his core, would have approved of this desire to share the house and its contents with people from all walks of life.’ The collection was awarded Designated status by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council in 2005, in recognition of its cultural significance.
The building has been designed sustainably by architects Stanton Williams, to provide the best possible environmental conditions for the long-term preservation of the collection.