A Letter from Benjamin Britten

An autograph letter by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), thanking the Company and in particular the Master for a special ceremony at which he received the Honorary Freedom of the Company.

 

This letter was written by Britten to his friend the 3rd Viscount Astor (William Waldorf Astor II), addressing him as 'Bill'. Lord Astor was Master of the Company at the time and was keen that Mr Britten received an Honorary Freedom during his year in Office. At a Court Meeting in 1965, Astor proposed that Britten was honoured in this way.

The Musicians' Company Archive Project
The Musicians' Company Archive Project

Shown left are the Minutes of that Court meeting. It was held on 26th January 1965. Click on the image to download all 7 pages (note: item 19 refers to Lord Astor's proposition).

Below left are the Minutes of the next Court meeting (held on 27th April 1965) at which the proposition is carried unanimously and the special Freedom ceremony agreed to be held at Cliveden in Berkshire - home of the Master, Lord Astor (click the image to download - note item 10 refers).

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Shown right, are the notes from the Special Court Meeting held at Cliveden House (home of the Master, Lord Astor) on Saturday 17th July 1965 where the Honorary Freedom was bestowed upon Britten. Ladies were invited to attend as were the Master's guests. These Minutes contain full details of the music that was played during the event.

The Musicians' Company Archive Project

Shown right is an invitation to attend the ceremony at Cliveden - this one in particular was sent to Mr & Mrs D.J.Loeb (Assistant, David Loeb would become Master in 1969, following his father, Sydney Loeb, who had been Master in 1951). We are grateful to Pastmaster Loeb's family for supplying this and other documents for the archive.

The Musicians' Company Archive Project
The Musicians' Company Archive Project
The Musicians' Company Archive Project
The Musicians' Company Archive Project

On the left is the Programme, or Agenda, that was produced for this Special Court Meeting at Cliveden. It contains a listing of the entire Court - the Minutes assure us that all were present with the exception of pastmaster C.E.Boosey (detained overseas).

Sadly, the photograph of the Court with Britten, shown below, excludes the Senior Warden (and Treasurer) Mr C.D.Lockett, Pastmaster Alderman Sir Denis Truscott and Pastmaster A.R.Stock and Court Assistant A.B.Fraser.

Interestingly (as itemised in the Minutes shown above), the final music performances included the song Rule Britannia (taken from Thomas Arne's Alfred:A Masque). The Master, Lord Astor, noted at the conclusion that this song and indeed the entire Masque had actually had its debut performance at Cliveden House in front of its then owner/occupier and commissioner of the composition - Frederick, Prince of Wales [this would have been on 1st August 1740].

The Musicians' Company Archive Project

This photograph from the Cliveden event shows (from left to right): HFB Iles, Richard Crewdson, JSP Morley, Henry Willis, W Graham Wallace, Benjamin Britten, Trevor Burnett-Brown, Alastair Crewdson, Lord Astor, Roy Day, Victor Allcard, Frank Wright, Herbert Howells, Sir John Dykes-Bower, David Loeb, EHT Broadwood, Stanley Rubinstein and Sir Jack Westrup.

The Court Minutes report that "...a considerable number" of the Master's guests were in attendance, together with the Court (all Robed) and indeed their ladies. In his book Benjamin Britten - A biography (Faber and Faber, 1992) Humphrey Carpenter records the occasion and reports that "...from the outset [Britten] was very nervous - he had only accepted on the understanding that it was to be a 'quiet little party' ''.

 

Shown right is a newspaper cutting reporting the event.

The Musicians' Company Archive Project

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