Britten and earworms


(c) Brian Hogwood

As Listening to Britten progresses, I find in many of his works that the composer is leaving a calling card in the form of an earworm – that is, something I can’t get out of my head for days after listening, even after moving on to the next piece!

As this has happened several times now I’m keeping a note of each motif, a kind of jotting pad in progress. So far the pieces that have left their mark are:

Beware! – the main melody

String Quartet in F major – the main theme of the first movement

Christ’s Nativity – several little themes from Sweet was the Song

Double Concerto for violin and viola – the main theme from the first movement, which hung around for days!

Phantasy Quartet, Op.2 – the main march theme, especially as played at the loudest part of the piece

A Boy was Born, Op.3 – several themes from this, including the ‘Alleluia’ from the opening and the several chants of ‘wassail’ from later on. These stuck around for at least a week!

Simple Symphony, Op.4 – the lead up and theme from the Playful Pizzicato, ridiculously catchy!

Coal Face – the very opening, also ridiculously catchy!

Suite for violin and piano – the theme of the waltz, extravagant and one that hung around for several days!

Rossini Suite – the first movement, and its cheeky theme especially

Friday Afternoons – several of the songs but especially Beyond dull care, and its piano accompaniment, and Old Abram Brown

Three Divertimenti – the very opening

Our Hunting Fathers – the very opening, the start of Messalina

Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge – almost too many to mention! Those that especially hung around were the Tarantella, the start of the Funeral March and the Chant

The Company of Heaven – the start of The Morning Stars, the violin theme representing the sound of the trumpets, and the setting of the hymn Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones

On This Island The opening to Let The Florid Music Praise is a piece of Britten that sticks in the head for ages, and so did the start of Nocturne

Tell me the truth about love – in the style of a pop song, this left its main hook nagging for days and days!

The Red Cockatoo – strange that such a short song should leave its mark, especially with an awkward melody like this one, but stay in the mind it did!

Piano Concerto – the opening and the recurring theme from the Impromptu

Johnson over Jordan – the opening salvo

Ballad of Heroes – the start of the Dance of Death

The Sword in the Stone – a real ‘nagger’, this one, the opening theme from the flute and trumpet that just keeps going round and round!

Young Apollo – a whole slab of A major, with various bits of the work coming back at regular intervals!

A.M.D.GRosa Mystica and the insistent God’s Grandeur main theme

Violin Concerto – the very opening to the second movement and the nagging move between major and minor in the closing bars

Les illuminations, Op.18 – the very opening fanfare, the strings at the start of Villes, the march-like tune of Royaute, the bouncing tune of Marine – all tripping over themselves in my head!

Purcell: The knotting song – Britten’s curious piano part, with its strange chromatic inflections

Purcell: Hark the ech’ing air – the vocal call with which the song begins

Canadian Carnival, Op.19 – the opening theme and its development

Sinfonia da Requiem, Op.20 – the thunderous opening, and the rapt arrival at D major in the third movement

Diversions, Op.21 – the forthright opening theme from the orchestra

Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, Op.22 – the very opening, with Pears’ first lines, and the nagging piano motif from Sonetto LV

The Salley Gardens – a much more graceful earworm, this – the tune itself

Little Sir William – unbelievably annoying, this one – the very opening just would not go away!”

The bonny Earl of Moray – the climax of the song, in the soprano version – to be honest I didn’t get on with this, but it put down roots nonetheless!

I wonder as I wander – just as much the piano line as the tune itself

Paul Bunyan, Op.17 – many earworms here but especially the Lumberjacks’ chorus, the narrator’s melodies, the cooks’ duet and many, many more!

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2 Responses to Britten and earworms

  1. Pingback: Listening to Britten – Les illuminations, Op.18 | Good Morning Britten

  2. Pingback: Listening to Britten – Introduction and Rondo Alla Burlesca, Op.23 no.1 | Good Morning Britten

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