Benjamin Britten continues to be one of the most performed 20th century composers of opera from anywhere in the world and his strong local links are well known. He lived on the Suffolk coast for nearly his entire life and as well as being his home, this coastline was the source of inspiration for many of his most famous compositions. Looking back in 1951, Britten remarked that he was "firmly rooted in this glorious country… I proved this to myself when I once tried to live somewhere else. Even when I visit countries as glorious as Italy, as friendly as Denmark or Holland – I am always homesick, and glad to get back to Suffolk... I treasure these roots, my Suffolk roots."
He was born in Lowestoft in 1913, in a house on Kirkley Cliff Road that overlooked the sea. He was the youngest of four children and his musical talent, was evident from a very young age. After attending Gresham’s school in Holt for two years, he went to the Royal College of Music in London at the age of only 16, returning to Lowestoft during the holidays.
For a number of years he lived in both London and Suffolk: initially returning frequently to the family home in Lowestoft, but also acquiring his first home in Snape in 1938. It was during this time that Britten began his relationship with lifelong partner Peter Pears, who was himself a prominent and successful tenor. The pair shared the belief that music, art and literature should be widely accessible and they established the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948, an annual event which continues to this day.
Between the years of 1947-57 Britten and Pears moved to Crag House on Crabbe Street in Aldeburgh. Inspired by the sea views, Britten composed a ‘Sea Opera’ there: Billy Budd, set during the Napoleonic wars in the eighteenth century. The house was flooded in the storm of 1953 – something Britten appeared to dramatise in his 1958 opera Noye’s Fludde. By that time, Britten and Pears were living in The Red House, near the golf course in Aldeburgh. The sea-front house was becoming too public, given that both men were internationally well-known by this stage. The sacrifice of the sea view was more than compensated for by the quiet lane, beautiful gardens, and comfortable rooms of The Red House. Britten also arranged for a studio to be constructed over the garage, where he could compose away from the house, and a Library for rehearsals and to store the couple’s increasingly large collection of books and artworks. They remained at The Red House together until Britten’s death in 1976 and Pears’ in 1986.
Today, visitors to The Red House can find out more about his and Pears’ lives together; view Britten’s Composition Studio and Library, discover their lives in the gallery and view the archive. There are exhibitions, recitals, discovery sessions, study days and come and sing events that take place across the year as well as family-friendly activities and trails.