Benjamin Britten: Early Treasures

 Benjamin Britten: Early Treasures
W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten, 1941

Wise Music Classical invites you to explore musical gems from the early career of Benjamin Britten

Film & Theatrical

Night Mail (1936) 5’
Text by W.H. Auden
Speaker + 1101/0100/perc/hp/str(

In the mid-1930s Benjamin Britten wrote extensively for theatre, film and radio. The most famous of these projects is Night Mail, a documentary created by the Film Unit of the UK General Post Office, which includes poetry by W.H. Auden.

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Love from a Stranger (1936) 8’

Love from a Stranger is Britten’s only work for commercial cinema. Though pleased with the music itself, he was unhappy with the way in which it was used in the film; large cuts were made that omitted important musical ideas and ultimately, the full score was lost. Colin Mathews undertook this reconstruction in the 1990s.   

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King Arthur (1937) 25’
3(pic).2.2(2Clarinet in A)+Ebcl.2(cbn)/4331/timp.2perc/hp/str(

Britten’s music for D.G. Bridson’s 1937 historical radio drama was adapted into this suite by Paul Hindmarsh in 1995. Some material from the third movement would later appear in the composer’s 1945 Piano Concerto.

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String Orchestra

Simple Symphony, Op. 4 (1933)
Str (alternative version for String Quartet)

According to Britten, the much-performed Simple Symphony is “entirely based on material from works which the composer wrote between the ages of nine and twelve.”

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Two Portraits for String Orchestra (1930) 15’
va + str

These sketches for string orchestra were written when Britten was just 16 and were not performed in the composer’s lifetime. Portrait No. 1 takes as its subject school friend David Layton, while No. 2, featuring solo viola, is a self-portrait of the composer. A third sketch was left unfinished.

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Chamber Orchestra

Double Concerto (1932) 25’ (with Colin Matthews)
vn,va + 2(2pic).2.2[2a-cl]+2a-cl.2/

Britten completed a complete draft short score of the Double Concerto in 1932 but never made a full score nor endeavoured to have the piece performed. Highly prolific in his teen years, he often moved swiftly on before revising and fully completing the piece at hand. Colin Matthew prepared the work for its premiere performance at the 50th annual Aldeburgh Festival in 1997. A version for string orchestra is also available.

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Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble 

Te Deum in C (1934) 8’
Hp[pf]/str, SATB, treble

Te Deum in C was originally composed with organ accompaniment; a commission from the BBC led to the creation of the orchestral version, premiered in 1936.

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The World of the Spirit (1938) 42’
Text compiled by R. Ellis Roberts
2(2pic)222/4231/timp.perc/, SATB

The World of the Spirit was written for BBC Radio’s Whit Sunday broadcast in 1938 and presages Britten’s great War Requiem with its themes of peace over war and reconciliation over violence.

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Two Psalms (1931) 16’
SATB: 2(IIpicc), 2(IIca), 2(IIbcl), 2/4.2 in C.3. bass tuba/timp, perc (cymbs, sd, tamburo militaire)/str

Like other early works, and though well-regarded by his teachers and mentors, these two psalm settings were not heard in Britten’s lifetime.

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