Listening to Britten – Five Waltzes


Britten playing cricket, c1925 – image courtesy of http://www.britten100.org

Five Waltzes for piano (originally called Five Walztes) (March 1925, Britten aged 11)

1 Rather fast and nervous
2 Quick, with wit
3 Dramatic
4 Rhythmic, not fast
5 Variations: Quiet and simple; Flowing; Slow and sad

Dedication Mr R.V. Britten (Britten’s father)
Duration 9’50”

clip of no.1, played by Michael Dussek:

Background and Critical Reception

It is often wondered why Britten didn’t publish more music for solo piano, especially bearing in mind he was such a prodigious accompanist. But his quote, “I don’t really like the modern piano”, is highlighted by John Bridcut as reason enough. The waltzes were initially published as a set of ten, and the young Britten spelled the form wrong, a mistake he decided to keep as a running joke when returning to them in 1970, though they were eventually published without the misspelling. Then he described them as ‘all pretty juvenile’, but ‘perhaps they may be useful for the young or inexperienced to practice’.

clip of no.3, played by Michael Dussek:

Thoughts

Michael Kennedy describes these pieces as ‘Chopinesque’, but I didn’t sense that connection in listening. There is quite a stern face on the third and fourth pieces in particular, and the third seems to be demonstrating a knowledge of Bach part writing. The most dance-like waltz is the slower fifth, with an attractive lilt to its triple time, while the first is also light of texture and has a spring in its step. Overall these pieces are drier than expected, and feel more like studies than characterful postcards.

clip of no.5, played by Michael Dussek:

Recordings used

Michael Dussek (piano) (Hyperion)
Stephen Hough (piano) (EMI)
Anthony Goldstone (piano) (Divine Art)

All three are fine performances, though it’s perhaps Dussek who gets the most warmth from Britten’s music.

Spotify
5 Waltzes, part of an intriguing album of English piano music based around Britten from pianist Anthony Goldstone

Also written in 1925: Gershwin – Piano Concerto

Next up: Epitaph: The Clerk

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2 Responses to Listening to Britten – Five Waltzes

  1. This titles should be “Five Walztes” to match Britten’s youthful misspelling. I think you intended to do that, but a spellchecker foiled your being able to include the literal title.

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