Listening to Britten – Untitled fragment for strings

Photo (c) Ben Hogwood

Untitled fragment for strings (1930, Britten aged 16)

Dedication not known
Duration 2’30”

Background and Critical Reception

As Britten falls more under the influence of Frank Bridge, so his music becomes more questing and experimental. This fragment was written towards the end of his time at Gresham’s, and though it doesn’t have an exact date of composition, it is known that Britten was cultivating a keen interest in the music of Schoenberg and Berg. There are some fascinating quotes around this time of Britten stating just how much he had enjoyed Pierrot Lunaire, and he even brought a score of the Six Little Piano Pieces. Berg was a particularly big influence on the music of his composition teacher Frank Bridge at the same time, as we explored in the Foundations series.


Angular and uncompromising, this is Britten seeing how far he can go down the atonal path. The opening violin theme is memorable if unwieldy, but does point forward to some of the composer’s energetic earlier works, its profile sharing a little with the finale of the String Quartet no.1.

What this sketch shows most vividly, however, is that Britten’s scoring for strings has developed even since the Quatre chansons françaises, and sounds fresh and vital. Sadly the structure is incomplete, for it would have been interesting to hear what Britten would have done with the development of his themes.

Recordings used
Northern Sinfonia / Thomas Zehetmair (world premiere recording) (NMC)

Crisp and clear, with plenty of energy in the opening statement.

Untitled fragment

Also written in 1930: Ireland: Piano Concerto

Next up: Oh Why Did E’er My Thoughts Aspire

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