Commissioned by the BBC for the 1955 Cheltenham Festival

  • cl/hn/str 4t
  • 17 min

Programme Note

Lennox Berkeley wrote this work in 1955 for the Melos Ensemble. The first performance was given in the same year.

The first of the three movements has a clear sonata form layout with two well-defined and contrasting themes. Typically, the accompanying lines are busy from the start, the emphasis being on a contrapunctal platform for the melody which, as might be expected, tends to be given to the clarinet or horn. One of the main points of interest in this movement is, indeed, the interplay of the string parts which so often provide a foretaste of or cast a new light on the solo wind line above.

The slow movement opens with the spotlight on the strings. A fugato builds to a passionate climax only for the clarinet and horn to enter in duet with their own more florid material. The fugato returns, the timing of the string entries halved to one bar’s distance to provide time to develop the wind and string ideas in harness.

The finale has the shape and nature or a ronda. Whereas in the first movement it was the wind instruments that took the lead, here it is the strings that initiate the melodic impetus and changes of mood. Indeed, it is the remarkable variety of texture obtained from the strings that gives light and shade to the movement. A coda, in which the metre alternates between 5 / 8 and 3 / 4, closes the work in fine, rousing style,

James Rushton 1983