BENJAMIN BRITTEN and PETER PEARS (Autobiography 10)

CONCERT IN BIG SCHOOL 1964

ROGER MARSHALL 1965

CHARLES MARSHALL 1965

Charles and Roger Marshall are twins although they now live a world apart, Roger in Hong Kong and Charles in Sussex. They were my friends and contemporaries at Farfield. They lived in Reigate in Surrey so they were not East Anglians except in school terms, but they went to Gresham’s to follow in their father’s footsteps. He had been at Farfield in the 1920s, and he had as his fag the young Benjamin Britten.

Portrait of the young BENJAMIN BRITTEN

(I wonder when fagging died out? I’m sure the arcane practice has been abandoned years and years ago. It was still going in my day however. For those of you unaware of the fagging system it involved the prefects and the most junior boys in the house who constitued the fags. There were about 5 or 6 prefects, and rather more new boys, so not everyone got to be a fag; I was never one. Although there were extra duties expected of a fag, such as making the prefect’s bed and cleaning his shoes, being selected as a fag was quite an honour. I believe you were let of various other chores to make up for you fagging. Charles Marshall had Nigel Dick as his fag -see Farfield (2) of 25 September 2011- but I have forgotten who I had. Yes, I really did have a fag in my last term!)

BIG SCHOOL

In 1964 we at Gresham’s School had the privilege of a concert given in Big School by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. (Pears was not an Old Greshamian, having been educated at Lancing College.) In that year I would have been 15. I cannot remember what was played, but I do recall part of the talk Britten gave. He recalled how he was mentioned by the headmaster (J. R. Eccles) because his hair was too long. This rang a chord with many of us who were also trying to grow our hair as long as we could get away with. But I do not think any of my contemporaries ever had the length of our hair announced to the whole school. If we had, though, I think it would have been a source of pride rather than chagrin.

BRITTEN/PEARS CONCERT PROGRAMME

BRITTEN/PEARS CONCERT PROGRAMME

Of course Britten and Pears did not live all that far away in Aldeburgh, but they were not frequent visitors to Gresham’s. In fact this was the only occasion that Britten gave a talk or performance at his old school. He did contribute to the special edition of The Grasshopper which was produced for 400th anniversary of the school in 1958, in which Auden was also represented. Gresham’s was not a place of many happy memories for him, although neither was a place of utter torment. Besides his experience over the length of his hair he was quite sickly I believe, and he did not hit it off with the music master Walter Greatorex (remembered today for composing the hymn tune Woodlands). I think he was happier when he left to study in London at the Royal College of Music.

Here is my diary entry for 29 May: Yes, they came. The recital was in 3 parts. 1. Peter Pears singing and Benjamin Britten playing the piano. The music was by other composers. 2. Songs and Piano pieces  original compositions by Britten. 3. Pears singing and Britten playing his own arrangements of traditional songs.

In fact Britten and Pears had been due to perform on 4th March (see the programme above), but the date was put back because Pears had a sore throat – hence the rather cryptic comment “Yes, they came.” They could not come any earlier because Britten was due to conduct the War Requiem in Moscow.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

joemasonspage@gmail.com

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