Friday, September 2, 2011

A visit to the Britten-Pears Institute

On 1 July, while thousands of Canadians were congregated in Trafalgar Square to play ball hockey and rock out to Blue Rodeo, I made a solo mini-pilgrimage to one of the most quintessentially English spots you might hope to find - Aldeburgh.  (That's pronounced OLD-bruh).  To be fair, I didn't actually make it into Aldeburgh proper but was visiting a spot on the outskirts of the town - The Britten Pears Institute.  This is a library archive located in the former home of the 20th-Century English composer Benjamin Britten, who left the house as a bequest to posterity for the preservation and study of his musical manuscripts, letters and other materials pertaining to his life and work.  I began studying him during my degree at SMU and am continuing on after having my research paper on his Rejoice in the Lamb published in Choral Journal this past May (very exciting!)  There is only space at the archive for two readers at a time, and you have to write to the archivists ahead of time and be slotted in to a space, so Friday 1 July it was for me.

Going up and back in one day meant a slightly epic journey of public transport and train travel.  My journey began at London Liverpool Street Station with the 08:00 National Express East Anglia train to Ipswich, where I switched (heh) in a bit of a rush to take the 09:13 train to Saxmundham.  After that, it was a hopper bus to Aldeburgh, one that arrived and left at not quite definite times, but definitely not very often.  We're not in London anymore, Toto.

The first adventure of the day was my discovery at Liverpool Station that the one scene in Mission: Impossible where Ethan has just seen his parents arrested on tv - and he calls Kittridge from a payphone and hangs up just before he can be traced - was totally filmed in the station!  Which I should have known because they are staying on Liverpool Street at that part of the move, and he goes into this big expansive glass public space.... I think I might have thought it was a mall or something.  Anyways, I was having a little moment of revelation as I gathered my tickets.  It's kind of like the first time you drive past the Texas School Book Depository and think "I've never been here... and yet it is weirdly familiar..."

Now, see below for Liverpool Street Station, where my trip began:

And check out Saxmundham Station, the stop in Suffolk where my train travel left off:

I blundered my way around tiny Saxmundham until I found the right spot to get the once-an-hour bus to Aldeburgh.

NOT the right bus stop to get to Aldeburgh.  Uh... where is it?

 I eventually did find the right bus stop with about ten minutes to spare.  The driver pulled up and I got on and asked for a ticket as far as Aldeburgh.  He said "That's £2... wait, do you want to come back also?"  Oops!  Why yes I do.  Okay, return ticket please!  The driver gave me my ticket and told me to be sure and have fish and chips while in town.  Tempting, but that might have to wait until next time - I have places to be, books to stare at!!

Driving through English country roads with crop fields and horses grazing on either side, and no houses to be seen, made me suddenly feel like I was in that part of 1984 where they have to go way out of town to be alone together without Big Brother watching... hopefully.  Oh yeah, right, it's countryside like this that inspired George Orwell.

I knew that The Red House was a) on the outskirts of town, b) on the edge of a golf course, c) about 20 minutes' walk from the main bus stop in Aldeburgh.  There were a number of people on the bus with beach gear on - it's a seaside town so probably a popular spot for sunbathing.  (Not that there's ever any sun here.  Zing!)  All of a sudden, we whipped past a sign that said "Golf Course" and something about the Red House, and I was like "crap, it's right there."  Lo and behold, the bus came to a stop to let someone else off, so I bailed too and headed back toward the sign.

Then I just had to turn down this little laneway to find the place where Britten and Peter Pears made their home together:

I found it!  My pilgrimage was complete (well, except for getting home again!) and I got to spend the rest of the day with my nose in the holograph fair copy (hand-written good copy) of Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb, a piece I am very interested in.  Hurrah!

Britten was successful and well-recognized in his time so he was able to buy this beautiful property, and eventually set it up as a trust for people like me who want to learn more about his legacy and music.  :)

Herm... hope the bus comes back for me....
Time to go home!

What an opportunity and a great experience - it was so exciting I have an appointment to go back in October!

Hallelujah from the heart of God;
and from the hand of the Artist Inimitable
and from the echo of the Heavenly Harp
in sweetness magnifical and mighty

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