Listening to Britten – Mont Juic, Op.12


(c) Brian Hogwood

Mont Juic, Op.12 – Suite of Catalan dances for orchestra by Lennox Berkeley and Benjamin Britten (6 April – 12 December 1937, Britten aged 24)

1 Andante maestoso
2 Allegro grazioso
3 Lament: Andante moderato
4 Allegro molto

Dedication In memory of Peter Burra
Duration 12′

Audio

Excerpts from each movement can be heard on the Classical Archives site

Background and Critical Reception

Britten and Lennox Berkeley met at the International Society of Contemporary Music in Barcelona in 1936, where they were also in the company of Britten’s friend Peter Burra. Both composers formed a lasting friendship, and even lived together briefly when Britten first moved to Snape.

Creatively they achieved the relatively unusual feat in classical music of writing a collaborative work, a four-movement suite based on Catalan folk tunes and named after the hill on which they stayed. Berkeley wrote the first two movements and Britten the last two, though the composers were more than happy to issue the work jointly, and it became Berkeley’s Op.9.
Michael Kennedy recounts in the booklet notes for Steuart Bedford’s recording that Berkeley wrote to Britten and said, ‘I must say I thought your two pieces more effective than mine’. Later, he decided that ‘The last movement is terrific orchestration and betrays the master hand!’

Mont Juic is one of the few Britten works not to have been conducted by the composer, and indeed it has been very seldom recorded or performed since.

Thoughts

There is charm aplenty to be found in this short suite, and both composers treat their source material respectfully. It is another chance for Britten to indulge himself in a bit of authorised borrowing or pastiche, a facet of his composing style that stayed right through his life, taking in the folksongs, the Purcell realizations, Gloriana dances and the late Suite on English Folk Tunes (A Time There Was). The tunes here also allow him to pay a further tribute to Burra in the form of the melancholic lament, beautifully scored for alto saxophone.

Recordings used

English Chamber Orchestra / Steuart Bedford (Naxos)

A colourful performance from the ever-reliable ECO and Steuart Bedford, part of a disc that includes Lorraine McAslan in the Violin Concerto.

Spotify

The ECO / Bedford disc can be found here, while another, lesser known recording from the Philharmonia Orchestra and Louis Fremaux is located here, a complement to Walton’s First Symphony.

Also written in 1937: Walton – Crown Imperial

Next up: Tell me the truth about love

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