In 1939, uncertain about the future of Europe and imagining a new life for himself in the New World, the 25-year-old English composer Benjamin Britten set sail for Canada with his friend and partner-to-be, Peter Pears. Britten spent several productive weeks at Gray Rocks Inn in the Laurentian Mountains: he composed his Violin Concerto there, while still in the middle of completing Les Illuminations and probably already contemplating his next piece — Young Apollo, a commission for the CBC.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Britten (this audio is no longer available).
In a letter dated June 6, 1939, Britten describes Gray Rocks as “a terrific spot. Wild as oats. Mount Tremblante that overshadows us is the Northest point of civilisation before Hudson Bay (about 400 miles away). Most of it is not even detailed on the map. […] We have got a log cabin on the side of the hill — very quiet & indusive to work.”
Almost 75 years later, I invited pianist Paul Stewart and documentarian Lindsay Michael (of The Sunday Edition) to spend a day chasing the ghost of Benjamin Britten around his old Canadian haunt. With Britten’s letters from 1939 to guide us, we set out to look for his cabin — and what we found was astounding.
For a closer look inside Gray Rocks Inn, click through the gallery above. (Photo: Scott Tresham/CBC Music)
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