Britten (1913 - 1976)

Simple Symphony op.4 (18')

Benjamin Britten’s, Simple Symphony, Op. 4 was written from late 1933 to early 1934 when Britten was only twenty years old. To compose it he reused melodies in the pieces he wrote in his childhood. Simple Symphony is scored for strings only, lacking any wind or percussion parts (the piece can also be performed by string quartet). The work premiered on March 6, 1934, conducted by the composer himself. Simple Symphony comprises four relatively short movements. The first is titled “Boisterous Bourrée” (Bourrée is a type of duple-meter dance that was popular in the Baroque period). Here Britten uses themes from his Piano Suite No. 1 of 1926. After a series of chords, the movement opens with a quasi-fugue, which helps create a feeling of the boisterousness mentioned in its title, followed by a section that displays a peaceful tune. The second movement, “Playful Pizzicato,” takes thematic materials from Britten’s Scherzo for Piano (1924) and Piano Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 5. The movement consists only of pizzicato notes, as suggested in the title. The third movement, “Sentimental Sarabande” (Sarabande is yet another type of Baroque dance), utilizes melodies from Piano Suite No. 3 (1925) and Waltz for Piano (1923). The finale, “Frolicsome Finale,” includes themes from Britten’s Piano Sonata No. 9 (1926).

[Akira Ishii]