Britten, Birds and Beauty


When Benjamin Britten left England for the United States in 1939, he did so with the intent of moving there permanently.  He thought that there would be greater opportunity for him in America than in Britain and he hoped he might be able to make a living as a composer in Hollywood.  But while he was there, he grew homesick, and in 1942 , he decided to return to England. Britten felt very attached to the land in Suffolk; he once said all of his music came from there.  Britten was passionate about its landscape, its marshes and rivers. The reed beds in Snape produce their own percussive song as the blades rub against one another in the wind.  It is a very musical environment. 

reeds snape maltings

Britten was a keen ornithologist, and his favorite birdsong was the nightingale’s. In later years, his nurse Rita Thomson would drive him to places in Suffolk where he could hear it. 

One might not be able to qualify Britten as an “environmentalist,” per se, but he was certainly concerned with preserving the beauty of the natural eco-system in Suffolk.

That is evident in his Festival programming.  In 1952, he invited the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to screen three films at the Festival (see below on the right).

(image courtesy of the Britten-Pears Foundation)

(image courtesy of the Britten-Pears Foundation)


My intention was for The Wild Song to convey Britten’s love for the natural landscape in Suffolk.  Britten’s legacy reminds us that we have a duty to nurture and protect this Earth and leave it more beautiful than we found it. 


“In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.”

~John Muir