Listening to Britten – Reflection for viola and piano

(c) Ben Hogwood

Reflection for viola and piano (11 – 12 April 1930, Britten aged 16)

Background and Critical Reception

First performed in 1995, the Reflection was written when Britten was 16 and still at Gresham’s. His technical command of the viola had grown to such an extent that John Bridcut reports him playing the solo parts of Walton’s Viola Concerto, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante and one of Brahms’s sonatas for the instrument. In fact the piece seems to coincide with Britten’s very brief dalliance with Brahms, where he admired the way he had used the viola in his String Quartet no.3.


The Reflection, like the Little Idyll, is a distracted piece in B minor, and starts in a dreamlike state, almost as if the teenage Britten is finding it difficult to concentrate at school. It then becomes more focused, working its way to an impressive climax before subsiding to the strangely compelling music of the opening. This is a deceptive piece, for it can drift past on a casual listen, but has real emotional substance beneath the surface.

Recordings used

Nobuko Imai (viola), Roland Pöntinen (piano) (BIS)

Imai’s silvery tone is ideal for Britten’s meandering thoughts, with Pöntinen’s soft accompaniment equally mysterious.


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