Archive of Aldeburgh Music and its preceding administrative bodies

Scope and Content

This collection comprises papers of Aldeburgh Music and its preceding administrative bodies.

The administrative papers of Aldeburgh Music and its predecessors include minutes of AGM and council meetings and of committees such as executive, fund-raising and general purposes. Office files held relate to matters such as fundraising, appeals, sponsorship, and commemorative and gala events. The collection includes some financial papers and papers of the Friends of Aldeburgh Productions and previous supporting bodies. Also included are papers concerning the organisation of the Aldeburgh Festival and other events held throughout the year at Snape Maltings Concert Hall from 1973 to 1977. The collection provides information on the Aldeburgh Festival and related events, the aims and purpose of its founders, organisers and artistic directors, and the growth and development of the festival and of Snape Maltings as an artistic centre.

The papers of The Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme (formerly the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies) document education and training at Snape Maltings from the first master classes for singers held in 1972 to 2004. There are plans, reports and correspondence relating to the foundation of the School, and minutes of education committees, policy and financial papers. The papers relating to courses and study weekends include details on faculty, students and repertoire, course and masterclass schedules, and programmes of concerts, recitals and performances. There are also papers and programmes relating to the Britten-Pears Orchestra (formerly the Snape Maltings Training Orchestra), Britten-Pears Chamber Choir and competitions such as the Britten Award for Composition and Purcell-Britten Prize for concert singers.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts was founded in 1948 by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and the writer and producer Eric Crozier. They first discussed the idea of holding a festival in Aldeburgh while travelling abroad with the newly formed English Opera Group during August 1947. Troubled by the expenses of running a touring opera company, they wanted to establish a base for the English Opera Group at home.

On their return to England, the feasibility of an Aldeburgh Festival was considered further with local residents; the feedback was positive and a Festival Committee appointed. It was agreed that performances of opera by the English Opera Group would form the nucleus of the festival and that the group would also drive the artistic direction and provide singers and instumentalists for recitals and chamber music. The first Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts was held from 5th to 13th June 1948 with a varied programme of choral, orchestral and chamber concerts, recitals, exhibitions and lectures and three performances of Britten's opera Albert Herring.

It had been Britten's and Pears's intention that the festival should be an annual and growing event and this was achieved partly through their active involvement. They regularly performed at the festival, the former often appearing as conductor as well as pianist. They invited the participation of a number of visiting foreign composers, including Copland, Henze, Kodály and Poulenc. Britten composed new works to be premiered at the festival, including the operas The Little Sweep, Noye's Fludde, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Death in Venice and the three church parables.

Many of the founders' friends, including some of the world's leading musicians, regularly performed at the festival, some of them coming to Aldeburgh to premiere works written specifically for them by Britten. Fruitful friendships were established at the festival with artists such as Dennis Brain, Julian Bream, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Osian Ellis, and especially with the Soviet artists Rostropovich, Galina Vishnevskaya and Sviatoslav Richter.

Britten's music has always taken an important place in festival programming, however concerts also regularly include new and recent works by other British and also foreign composers. Britten and Pears were named as artistic directors in 1955; this team was later expanded to include, at various dates, Imogen Holst, Philip Ledger, Colin Graham, Steuart Bedford, Murray Perahia, Mstislav Rostropovich and Oliver Knussen.

The audiences outgrew the parish churches, halls and private houses of East Suffolk used as festival venues and the need for a dedicated festival concert hall became apparent. It was decided to convert part of a disused maltings at Snape, funds were raised and Arup Associates were appointed architects. The new concert hall at Snape Maltings was opened by the Queen on 2 June 1967, the first day of the 20th Aldeburgh Festival. With these new facilities festivals could be planned on a larger scale than previously possible.

Over the years activities at Snape Maltings have continued to grow, events increasingly being organised at different times of the year rather than concentrated in a single June festival. These have included concerts during spring weekends and at Easter, a Snape Maltings Proms season and an October Britten festival. Today Aldeburgh Music provides an extensive year-round programme of events and performances in addition to the thriving annual Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts.

Britten and Pears were keen to involve young artists in the activities at Snape Maltings Concert Hall and to give them the opportunity to study with leading musicians. Pears directed master classes for singers from 1972 onwards and the success of these and further courses for string players led to the foundation of the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies in 1977.

The School grew to offer a varied programme of practical and academic courses for young musicians and singers at the start of their professional career and master classes have been taught by many distinguished visiting faculty members, including Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Murray Perahia, Robert Spencer and Pierre Fournier. The successor of the school, the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme, continues to provide training for outstanding young professionals from around the world and also manages courses for the Britten-Pears Orchestra, formerly The Snape Maltings Training Orchestra.

Access Information

Open for consultation. Please email to arrange an appointment to visit the reading room or for further queries.

Acquisition Information

The papers were received from Aldeburgh Music and previous administrative bodies.

Other Finding Aids

The collection is uncatalogued; however there are preliminary lists of parts of the collection.

There is a card index to artists taking part in the Aldeburgh Festival from 1948 to 1967; indexes of artists 1968 to date can be found in the Aldeburgh Festival programme books.

There is a card index of works performed at the Aldeburgh Festival and at other concerts outside the June Festival season, from 1948 to 2004.

Related Material

The Britten-Pears Foundation's archive holds a comprehensive collection of photographs of The Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts, forming a photographic record of the festival from its foundation in 1948 to 2004. The collection includes photographs of performers on and off stage, production photographs and informal photographs of Festival events. There are also photographs of other concerts, performances and events held throughout the year at Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall and other local venues. The Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme is also represented with photographs of staff, students, master classes, rehearsals and performances. There are also photographs of Snape Maltings Concert Hall including photographs taken during its construction.

The Foundation holds collections of programmes, exhibition catalogues, leaflets, posters and press reviews relating to events held during The Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts from 1948 to the present day. The collections include similar material relating to events which have been held at Snape Maltings Concert Hall and other venues outside the June festival season, from the 1950s to the present day, such as Rostropovich Festivals, Bach at Long Melford concerts, Benson and Hedges Music Festivals, Spring Weekends, Easter Festival, Snape Proms, Britten Festival and many other concerts and performances.

See Britten-Pears Foundation collection reference number MSC/10 for Aldeburgh Festival Executive Committee minute book 1947-1955 and subscriptions book 1965-1967.

For details of recordings of performances and events at the Aldeburgh Festival or Snape Maltings Concert Hall consult the Foundation's online catalogue.


For further information about the Aldeburgh Festival and associated events, the reader is referred to the following published items, copies of which are available in the BPF archive reading room:

Aldeburgh by Judith LeGrove, chapter 17, pages 306 to 317 of The Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Britten, edited by Mervyn Cooke, Cambridge University Press, 1999.

A Photographer at the Aldeburgh Festival: Nigel Luckhurst, arranged and introduced by John Amis, Richard Butt and Norman Scarfe, Bury St Edmunds, 1990.

Making Musicians: A Personal History of the Britten-Pears School by Moira Bennett, 2012.

The House that Britten Built. How the Aldeburgh Festival brought music to the Snape Maltings by Edwards, David, 2013.