Wednesday 15 May 2013

Jim Cadbury-Brown's memorial to Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten's centenary year sees many tributes to the composer, particularly in and around Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings, where the Aldeburgh Festival is held. During the festival in June SNAP, the third  annual exhibition organised by Abigail Lane and Aldeburgh Music, is also taking place. This year all the artists involved have been asked to respond to Britten in some way. 

Drawing of proposed memorial to Benjamin Britten by Jim Cadbury Brown

During our research for the 3 Church Walk film, Jonathan and I came across a story that sparked an idea for my contribution to SNAP. Jim knew Britten and Pears well - his house is built on the site that was earmarked for the opera house that is now situated at Snape Maltings. When Britten died Jim was asked to propose a memorial for Britten in Aldeburgh. Although it was never realised the story surrounding it is intriguing. The memorial was to be a huge hulk of wood standing on the beach with two holes in the top designed to sing out the two notes from Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes, when the wind blew fiercely enough through them. Like a huge wind instrument on the beach playing to the residents of Aldeburgh it would remind them of the darkness that lies beyond the horizon, out at sea.

Bishops and Son's, Ipswich. Photograph ©Emily Richardson 2013

Rising 5th. © Emily Richardson 2013

Rising 5th. © Emily Richardson 2013

During the design process for this memorial Jim needed to determine what size holes would be drilled in the wood to create the right notes. To do this he strapped two organ pipes to a car and drove up and down the Aldeburgh - Thorpeness road to see at what speed the notes would sound.

Re-performing this experiment, documenting it on film and recording the sound made by the pipes strapped to the car I am making a video piece titled Rising 5th  (Re-staging of a test for an unrealised memorial to Benjamin Britten). Driving up and down the Aldeburgh - Thorpeness road I imagine Jim's excitement as the organ pipes begin to sound at around 40 mph and as the car gains speed the pitch of the note sounded increases dramatically. It seemed so improbable that this test would work but with guidance and the loan of organ pipes from the organ builders, Bishops and Sons in Ipswich (in Jims case, Manders organs in London)  it has been possible to recreate this experiment.

The sea at Aldeburgh from the South Lookout. © Emily Richardson 2013

In conjunction with the video piece a sound installation in the Aldeburgh Lookout tower will recreate the sound of the memorial on the beach, had it been realised. From the beach you can climb the narrow spiral stairs up into the Lookout tower and once inside will be able to experience the sound of the memorial in a storm whilst down below, on three evenings in June, Peter Grimes will be performed on the beach, conjuring his spirit and remembering the great British composer.

SNAP Art at the Aldeburgh Festival 2013
June 8th – June 30th 2013

OPEN DAY, JUNE 8th 1-4pm
The third annual exhibition organised by Abigail Lane together with Aldeburgh Music
at Snape Maltings, Suffolk. IP17 1SP

To celebrate the Benjamin Britten Centenary, artists from previous SNAP exhibitions have been invited to contribute works related to or inspired by Britten.

Participating artists will include Glenn Brown, May Cornet, Benedict Drew, Roger Eno, Mark Fuller, Ryan Gander, Maggi Hambling, Scott King, Emily Richardson, Abigail Lane, Simon Liddiment, Sarah Lucas, Julian Simmons, Cally Spooner, Juergen Teller and Cerith Wyn Evans.

To find out more about SNAP go to:

For Aldeburgh Music’s programme go to: