Britten was born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, in 1913. He moved to the Old Mill, Snape, in 1937 before eventually moving to Crag House in Aldeburgh in 1947. In his diary he wrote of Suffolk, "The county is grand – none in England like it – and I feel I’m infinitely wise in choosing this place..."
"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)
Crag House, on Crag Path, overlooks the sea and photographs of Britten working at his piano show gulls over the shingle with the sea beyond. It was from here that the early Festivals were planned, with many events in Jubilee Hall, just a few doors down the road. In seeking further solitude from public eyes Britten moved to the Red House, just outside Aldeburgh, where he and Peter Pears (whom he met in 1937) lived until their respective deaths.
With Britten living and working in Suffolk for most of his life, his work is inextricably linked with the landscape and people of the region, for example, through works such as Peter Grimes, Albert Herring, Noye’s Fludde, Let’s Make An Opera! and Three Church Parables.
To really experience the man, his music and the sense of place in which so much of it was created, a visit to Aldeburgh, the Red House and Snape Maltings, is a must.
"If wind and water could write music, it would sound like Ben’s." Yehudi Menuhin
Inspired by the vast skies and moody seas of the Suffolk coast, Britten and Pears, along with writer Eric Crozier, founded the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. Pioneering an era of arts organisations engaging in the education and support of young artists, they brought together international stars and emerging talent; world-renowned figures such as Menuhin, Sviatoslav Richter and Rostropovich and young stars in the making such as Söderström, Perahia and Bream.
In its earlier years, the Festival used halls and churches local to Aldeburgh; Orford, Framlingham and Blythburgh amongst them. With ever increasing popularity there came the need for a permanent home for the Festival and in 1967, two years after malting had ceased, Aldeburgh Festival moved into its new home, Snape Maltings Concert Hall. Originally explored as a place to store opera scenery, the vision of Britten and his colleagues saw the largest of the malthouses as the perfect building to convert into a concert hall. In 1967, Snape Maltings Concert Hall was opened by HM The Queen. Disastrously, fire struck two years later in 1969 and the Concert Hall needed rebuilding, to be opened once again by the Queen on her second visit, in 1970.
The Aldeburgh Festival continues to have education and artist development at its heart, with residencies and masterclasses ever present alongside international talent. The opening of the Hoffmann Building in 2009, home to the Britten Studio, provides further flexible performance and rehearsal spaces where artists come to develop their work. Here audiences are able to enjoy performances and follow works in progress, from leading musicians and artists as well as Aldeburgh’s rising stars, turning into reality what always was Britten’s vision for the Festival and indeed the whole campus at Snape.
Britten’s Legacy – Snape Maltings today
Since the first Aldeburgh Festival in 1948, the Suffolk Coast has become a world-renowned meeting place for artists and audiences alike.
Inspired by the legacy of Britten, today our organisations has evolved into a year-round programme of artistic endeavour, much taking place at the incomparable Snape Maltings Concert Hall.
It also has a growing reputation as a centre where everybody from the local community to the world’s finest musicians can come to be inspired and reach their full potential; Group A, an unauditioned vocal and performance group of 14-18 year olds, meet regularly throughout the year; Aldeburgh Young Musicians, exceptionally talented 8-18 year olds, is shaping the musicians of tomorrow – pushing the boundaries of what young musicians can achieve; and of course the Britten–Pears Young Artist Programme, bridging the gap between conservatoires and professional life, goes from strength to strength and has played a vital role in the development of the Aldeburgh World Orchestra.
Residencies and the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme provide emerging and established professionals with the opportunity to explore new creative territory. Britten’s wish to involve and educate within the community continues with the Learning & Inclusion Department.
A Celebration of Schools’ Music celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2017, as more than 1500 pupils from schools all around the county came to perform over the course of a week at the Concert Hall.
At the forefront of contemporary classical music, we now pioneer new collaborations between classical and electronic artists too, through the Faster Than Sound series, and with SNAP: Art at the Aldeburgh Festival entering its second year in 2012, Britten’s strong association with the visual arts and artists, such as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, is brought back to the fore.