Movement 1: Poco presto ed agitato
Movement 2: Variations
Movement 3: Tarantella
The Sinfonietta is a remarkably assured example of Britten’s earlier compositions. The instrumentation belies at once his skill in crafting notes which sound as if they were always intended for that particular instrument; there is never any sense of this music feeling ‘scored’ from some kind of piano reduction. The opening bars unfold five interrelated motifs which provide the basis of the material to be heard in all three movements. The intervallic shapes delineated by these motivic units are played out against an important major-seventh pedal point (B flat–A) which itself relates back to the motifs. Schoenberg’s influence can be detected in the way the melodic and harmonic parameters cross-refer.
The sonata form of the first movement yields to an unusual set of variations, marked andante, in the second movement. Their growth from a rather loose organization of the motivic elements, through some impressive development to a moving climax and a recapitulation, is not what one might expect. The term ‘variations’ can be seen to apply to Britten’s persistent reappraisal of the original material. The finale employs once again the intervallic structure of the original motivic set heard at the beginning of the Poco presto ed agitato. Britten’s choice of the Tarantella foreshadows his later ‘dances of death’ in such works as Our Hunting Fathers (1936) or Sinfonia da Requiem (1940).
from notes by Philip Reed © 1996