Listening to Britten – Movement for wind sextet

(c) Ben Hogwood

Movement for wind sextet (5 May – 7 August 1930, Britten aged 16)

Dedication not known
Instrumentation flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, horn, bassoon
Duration 8′

Background and Critical Reception

A combination rarely heard in Britten’s output, this movement is the only published work of the composer’s for wind alone. It forms a bridge between Gresham’s, where he began the piece in May 1930, and the Royal College of Music, where he took the work after finishing it in August. John Bridcut speculates that the piece was designed to impress the examiners at the college. The sextet belongs firmly in the group of compositions influenced by Schoenberg, although Philip Reed speculates in his booklet note for Hyperion that it may also be influenced by Janáček’s wind sextet Mladi from 1926, which Britten almost certainly heard.


It is strange to think this is the only work of Britten’s for wind ensemble, considering his skill in orchestrating throughout his career. Yet despite his apparent lack of experience in writing for wind instruments alone at this point, the movement for wind sextet is assured and exploits the colours available to him.

The musical style is still looking intently towards Schoenberg, for pure tonality is kept at a distance, although the workings become a bit self conscious as the music gets faster half way through. It is nice, though, to hear the oscillating bass clarinet just half a minute in, adding a new dimension to a familiar instrumental grouping, while providing some depth at the end.

Recordings used
Nash Ensemble (Hyperion)

Not available on Spotify, but a preview of the Movement can be heard on the Hyperion website

Also written in 1930: Delius – Songs of Farewell

Next up: Two portraits for string orchestra

This entry was posted in Chamber music, Listening to Britten, Uncategorized, Wind ensemble and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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