Hyperion Records

Sinfonietta, Op 1
June to July 1932

'Britten: Phaedra & other works' (CDH55225)
Britten: Phaedra & other works
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDH55225  Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service  
Movement 1: Poco presto ed agitato
Track 18 on CDH55225 [3'53] Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service
Movement 2: Variations
Track 19 on CDH55225 [6'21] Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service
Movement 3: Tarantella
Track 20 on CDH55225 [3'45] Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service

Sinfonietta, Op 1
It was Erwin Stein who first noted the influence of Schoenberg – and in particular his first Chamber Symphony – on Britten’s three-movement Sinfonietta, written during June and July 1932 when Britten was studying composition under John Ireland at the Royal College of Music, London. The hostility of the College towards the radically new ideas of the Second Viennese School was a determining factor in preventing Britten from studying with Berg in 1934. Such music did not interest most of the leading teachers at the College – Ireland and Vaughan Williams among them; but it fascinated Britten’s first composition teacher and principal guiding mentor, Frank Bridge, whose later works bear a remarkable resemblance to mainstream atonal compositions and who surely encouraged his pupil to explore wider horizons.

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

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