"

VISIT WESTCORKMUSIC.IE

LATEST ADDITION TO THE ARCHIVE

String Quartet No.2 Op.36

Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)

Vanbrugh Quartet (photo credit: Chris O

Vanbrugh Quartet (photo credit: Chris O'Dell)

Composer
Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
Composition Year
1945
Work Movements
1. Allegro calma senza rigore
2. Vivace
3. Chacony - Sostenuto
Artists
RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet (Gregory Ellis, Keith Pascoe [violins], Simon Aspell [viola], Christopher Marwood [cello]) [quartet]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

This quartet was commissioned by Mary Behrend, a notable patron of the arts, and was premiered in the Wigmore Hall in November 1945, the day after Britten and Peter Pears had premiered his Holy Sonnets of John Donne. Both concerts were part of the 250th anniversary celebrations of the death of Purcell. For the previous six years, Britten and Pears had been including Purcell in their recitals, with piano parts realised by Britten from Purcell's figured bass. His latest opera, Peter Grimes, had been premiered earlier that year, and had demonstrated how much Britten had learned from Purcell's handling of words. He said afterwards that when he had been composing the opera, he had had a quartet at the back of his mind. Some commentators feel that the quartet is an instrumental sequel to the opera, with its themes of isolation, persecution, hypocrisy and uncontrollable violence. Auden famously wrote to Britten in 1942: If you are really to develop your full stature, you will have, I think, to suffer and make others suffer, in ways which are totally strange to you at present, and against every conscious value that you have. Peter Grimes was the embodiment of this judgement.

Britten was notorious for not giving any clues about his compositional process, but he chose Purcell's Fantasia upon One Note as the filler on the final side of the first recording of the quartet. It seems likely that the drone of two sustained notes on the viola, which opens the work, is modelled on that piece. In Britten's harmonic language, the drone, which is on two notes that imply a C major chord, probably represents a state of naturalness. Above it is played a lyrical, slightly chromatic theme, which seems to suggest the mind of the contemplative artist. As the movement progresses, it alternates between feverish energy and exhaustion. The eerie central scherzo is very short and is played on muted instruments. The Chacony, at which Purcell was such a master, was a slow dance in triple metre, based on a repeating pattern in the bass. Britten spins out 21 variations, in three sets of six plus three at the end. The first set focuses on harmony, the second on rhythmic variation, the third on new superimposed melodies. Each set is followed by a cadenza for a single instrument, first cello, then viola, then first violin. This is a huge movement of increasingly dramatic music, whose immense power reflects the savagery of the opera. 

FULL DETAILS SEARCH FOR MORE

String Quartet No.2 Op.36

Composer: Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
Performance date: Saturday 29th June 2013
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

Share on Twitter | Share on Facebook
http://archive.westcorkmusic.ie/details/view/cmf/281

Composer Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
Work Title String Quartet No.2 Op.36
Composition Year 1945
Work Movements 1. Allegro calma senza rigore
2. Vivace
3. Chacony - Sostenuto
Artist(s) RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet (Gregory Ellis, Keith Pascoe [violins], Simon Aspell [viola], Christopher Marwood [cello]) [quartet]
Performance Date Saturday 29th June 2013
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Stars in the Afternoon
Duration 00:28:48
Recording Engineer Damian Chennells, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

This quartet was commissioned by Mary Behrend, a notable patron of the arts, and was premiered in the Wigmore Hall in November 1945, the day after Britten and Peter Pears had premiered his Holy Sonnets of John Donne. Both concerts were part of the 250th anniversary celebrations of the death of Purcell. For the previous six years, Britten and Pears had been including Purcell in their recitals, with piano parts realised by Britten from Purcell's figured bass. His latest opera, Peter Grimes, had been premiered earlier that year, and had demonstrated how much Britten had learned from Purcell's handling of words. He said afterwards that when he had been composing the opera, he had had a quartet at the back of his mind. Some commentators feel that the quartet is an instrumental sequel to the opera, with its themes of isolation, persecution, hypocrisy and uncontrollable violence. Auden famously wrote to Britten in 1942: If you are really to develop your full stature, you will have, I think, to suffer and make others suffer, in ways which are totally strange to you at present, and against every conscious value that you have. Peter Grimes was the embodiment of this judgement.

Britten was notorious for not giving any clues about his compositional process, but he chose Purcell's Fantasia upon One Note as the filler on the final side of the first recording of the quartet. It seems likely that the drone of two sustained notes on the viola, which opens the work, is modelled on that piece. In Britten's harmonic language, the drone, which is on two notes that imply a C major chord, probably represents a state of naturalness. Above it is played a lyrical, slightly chromatic theme, which seems to suggest the mind of the contemplative artist. As the movement progresses, it alternates between feverish energy and exhaustion. The eerie central scherzo is very short and is played on muted instruments. The Chacony, at which Purcell was such a master, was a slow dance in triple metre, based on a repeating pattern in the bass. Britten spins out 21 variations, in three sets of six plus three at the end. The first set focuses on harmony, the second on rhythmic variation, the third on new superimposed melodies. Each set is followed by a cadenza for a single instrument, first cello, then viola, then first violin. This is a huge movement of increasingly dramatic music, whose immense power reflects the savagery of the opera.