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Britten, animals, music and art – in Aldeburgh

2019 August 26

Ryan Gander recent sculpture in Snape Maltings

Recently visiting the Aldeburgh festival held at Snape Maltings in Suffolk was very interesting.For some years I’ve liked the work of Benjamin Britten including his post-war operas. But this was the first Britten and Pears’ Aldeburgh venue I attended. Art works in Snape Maltings also included the new work by Ryan Gander To Give Light (Northern Aspirational Charms) alongside works of Barbara Hepworth or Henry Moore there was exhibited much of the recent anti-war visual material of John Keane.

Barbara Hepworth’s earlier sculpture in Snape Maltings

I had known about Britten’s attitudes towards animals (such as his own dogs, for example, Clytie) . The recent concerts covered the use of W.H.Auden’s work on various animals resulting in Our Hunting Fathers in 1936 , with “all the rats that are hereabout” but also seen to encompass “a time of turmoil in Europe’”. Also heard was his music on the songs and proverbs from William Blake in 1965 which inevitably showed his attention to The Fly and “Tyger ! Tyger ! burning bright’”alongside the fascinating ‘London’ with its “mind-forg’d manacles”.

Sirens by Geoffrey Clarke in The Red House

Nearby I viewed the sculptures Britten and Pears acquired, such as the Sirens by Geoffrey Clarke initially made for the 1956 festival in their engaging home on the edge of Aldeburgh, The Red House. Indeed here, most helpfullly, I come across some research including animals , with Britten as a patron of the RSPCA in the 1960s.He was apparently invited to be a patron by Malcolm Sargent, (particularly important at the Proms at that time). With other patrons, including Noel Coward, Britten appeared on the RSPCA Autumn fair publicity particularly in 1963 – opened by Margaret Thatcher (!)

Given my attitude towards public history – as well as the study of animals – I have often been critical of presentation in museums. (One of the few I have written about positively is Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks – complete with the recent accommodation of contemporary rats alongside the historical material from prisoners stolen by much older rats.)

hyde park rats

Rats’ nest and home in a cabinet in the Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, 2010

However I would add The Red House to the scant range of museums I have recalled positively. It shows Britten and Pears’ books, bought sculptures and pictures, rooms where much music was created, extensive range of accessible material and short interesting exhibitions. On this occasion a relevant exhibition explored the positions of Britten and his friend and composer Michael Tippett during the Second World War when Tippett was imprisoned as a conscientious objector in Wormwood Scrubs .

Even a cat sculpture inside The Red House

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