The title Young Apollo refers to a line in Keats’s unfinished poem Hyperion: ‘He stands before us—the new dazzling Sun-god, quivering with radiant vitality.’ This is as good an image as any around which to create a ‘fanfare’-like work, and Britten’s Op 16 carries the brilliance of the Piano Concerto’s Toccata one stage further, in that it is remarkably monotonal. Indeed, the A major tonality (a key of special significance for Britten in expressing such characteristics) is constant throughout, a fact which has led some commentators to suggest that this was the reason Britten withdrew the work after the second performance (it was not heard again until 1979, three years after his death). But the Sinfonia da Requiem (a work three times the length of Young Apollo) is similarly monotonal, centred upon D, in each of its three conjoined movements, and, moreover, has a triple pulse virtually throughout. In Young Apollo Britten avoids monotony by extraordinary varieties of texture (the utilization of string quartet and string orchestra) and of keyboard writing; he never explained his decision to withdraw the score.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 2008