Listening to Britten – A Little Idyll

(c) Ben Hogwood

A Little Idyll for piano (20 February – 8 March 1930, Britten aged 16)

Dedication not known
Duration 2’30”

Background and Critical Reception

Anthony Goldstone writes in the booklet notes for his CD about a piece that ‘packs its two and a half minutes with restless yearning chromaticism influenced by Bridge. None of the main biographers pick this piece out, although it appears fall in to the group of pieces affected by Britten’s listening of the time, the music of Schoenberg and Berg.


A short two-and-a-half minute aside for piano that opens deep in thought, before expanding slightly. Britten is continuing with his explorations of the edge of tonality, and there is a lot here that is reminiscent of Berg’s Piano Sonata Op.1, if a lot less focused and well constructed. It feels odd to hear such overtly Romantic music from Britten, and the harmonies are rich and exotic, the melody elusive. It is an attractive diversion, however, and the harmony on which it rests suggests some deeper thoughts have been laid to rest.

Recordings used

Anthony Goldstone (piano) (world premiere recording) (Divine Art)

The piano sound is on the brittle side, but Goldstone portrays the elusive, slightly distracted mood of the piece.

A Little Idyll, part of Anthony Goldstone’s cleverly conceived album of English piano music based around Britten

Also written in 1930: Weill – The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

Next up: Reflection for viola and piano

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