Britten's desk undergoing restoration

UNDOUBTEDLY one of the world's best-known composers, Benjamin Britten is also one of Suffolk's favourite sons.Now the composing desk which he pored over for endless hours to create some of his greatest works is undergoing conservation work by a specialist furniture restorer in Heckingham.

UNDOUBTEDLY one of the world's best-known composers, Benjamin Britten is also one of Suffolk's favourite sons.

Now the composing desk which he pored over for endless hours to create some of his greatest works is undergoing conservation work by a specialist furniture restorer in Heckingham.

The 20th century composer, who grew up in Lowestoft and lived in Aldeburgh, composed world famous pieces including The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

David Bartram's workshop has been commissioned to conserve the desk that Britten used for many of his musical creations, including the famous War Requiem.

Mr Bartram, 50, said the emphasis was not on restoring, but on conserving the mahogany desk, which he estimates was made in about 1800. A photograph proves it is the same desk Britten used to work at in front of a bay window in his composition studio in Aldeburgh.

Mr Bartram, from Norwich, said that the three-week project included reactivating the polish to retain details, such what appear to be nail marks on the left hand side of the desk, which Britten may have made by repeated tapping or scratching.

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Mr Bartram said: 'It's things like that we have got to try to keep. It's just about keeping it largely as it is.'

He added: 'It's wonderful to actually get the chance to work on things like this.'

Mr Bartram said that unlike most writing desks which are symmetrical, the underside of Britten's desk differs in depth.

'I find it interesting because it's Britten's, and intriguing because there are two different levels. I think it might have been a marriage table so a couple would be working either side, though I can't say definitely that's what it is.'

Britten, who was born in Lowestoft in 1913, developed a creative partnership with the tenor Peter Pears which both inspired Britten's music and led to the founding of the English Opera Group and the Aldeburgh Festival.

The desk will be returned to the Red House in Aldeburgh, where Britten and Pears lived and worked together for almost 30 years and which is now the home of the Britten-Pears Foundation.

Curator Caroline Harding said the house was lived in by their nurse until 2000, and it was not until 2003 that it was opened for tours.

She said the house had been kept largely as it was, adding that specialists are now being commissioned to conserve many of the items inside.

She said: 'We are at the stage now where we are thinking, what would we do if it were Beethoven's house? It's a way of looking ahead to posterity.'

She added that the desk was the first major piece to undergo preservation work as part of a programme in the lead-up to Britten's centenary year in 2013. Benjamin Britten died in 1976 at the age of 63.

For more information about the foundation visit www.brittenpears.org

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