The Three Pieces for violin and piano are among Benjamin’s earliest published works—they appeared together in 1925, though ‘Carnavalesque’ and ‘Humoresque’ were written in Sydney in 1921 and ‘Arabesque’ at the village of Beare Green in Surrey in 1924. ‘Arabesque’ is dedicated to the well-known English violinist Sybil Eaton, who was also the recipient of works by Stanford and Finzi, and bears the subtitle ‘The Muted Pavane’ (the violinist plays con sordino throughout). In this beautifully effective piece, as the title suggests, the piano treads a grave dance-measure while the violin spins an ecstatic, floridly decorated line above it, to which the pianist adds amiable counterpoints from time to time. ‘Carnavalesque’ is a waltz whose flexible, bittersweet melody is first spun over a single tolling tone in the piano before launching into full ballroom colours, subito e bruscamente; thereafter lyrical and full-bloodedly romantic ideas alternate until the piece delicately evanesces into silence.
‘Humoresque’ bears a dedication to the leading Sydney-based violinist Cyril Monk (1882–1970), an advocate of modern music who gave the Australian premieres of many works. It is a blithe and brilliant toccata for the two instruments, taking a delight in virtuoso display, passing through a wide range of contrasted moods and textures, with much effective use of pizzicato.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2014