Continuing my occasional series of blogs about distinguished alumnae of St Mary’s Calne, I’ve now come to someone of great personal interest to me: Rosamund Strode. I must start with a confession, though: before I came to Calne I hadn’t actually heard of Rosamund Strode – to my shame, given her close connections with Suffolk where I lived for many years and still spend much of my time when not in school. For those of you who also have not come across Rosamund, she was the ‘amanuensis’ of the great composer Benjamin Britten for the last decade or more of his life (he died in 1976).
Rosamund came to Britten’s attention in part through her connections with her predecessor in the amanuensis role, Imogen Holst, daughter of the composer Gustav. She started by helping out at busy times and took on the role herself when Imogen Holst decided to concentrate on preserving and promoting the works of her father in the mid-sixties. I myself came across her when browsing through some music books that were being rearranged in the school library and found that a book by Imogen Holst about her time at Dartington Hall in Devon had been inscribed and gifted to the school by none other than Rosamund Strode. From there it was easy to put the pieces of the jigsaw together, and my feeling of personal connection began.
Though they’re referred to as an amanuensis, both Imogen Holst and Rosamund Strode were of course much more than glorified copyists – in the language of today they ‘facilitated’ all the other aspects of Britten’s life and work to allow him the space to focus on his music (which at the time would have included everything from Curlew River onwards, including his late masterpiece Death in Venice). Both became highly influential figures in the musical life of the country. Rosamund had been to the Royal College of Music and was in the earlier stages of a singing career when she first met Britten in 1950 and in the same year sang in a concert that also featured Alfred Deller and Peter Pears to mark 200 years since the death of JS Bach – she was clearly no ordinary musician. She later went on to be the keeper of manuscripts and archivist at Britten’s home, the Red House in Aldeburgh, after the composer’s death and she was the chairman of the Holst Foundation.
Many of us who go to Aldeburgh and Snape (and the group of lovely medieval churches that many Festival events are still held in, from Orford to Blythburgh) can only imagine what it was like back in the heady days when Britten was still around, literally running the show, with the likes of Richter and Rostropovich performing, and Shostakovich dropping in (Rosamund was apparently called upon to cook him dinner!). How exciting it must have been to be an integral part of such a fantastically important moment in our culture and, as with Sir David Willcocks who we celebrated last year, it’s moving to think of the direct connection between these great musical figures and our continuing tradition of music here at the school.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of the school, copies of Consider the Lilies by Elizabeth Christie are still available from the School Shop.