Listening to Britten – Sonatina Romantica

(c) Brian Hogwood

Sonatina Romantica for piano (July 1940, Britten aged 26)

1 Moderato
2 Nocturne
3 Burlesque
4 Toccata

Dedication Dr. William B. Titley
Duration 7’30”

Background and Critical Reception

Only two movements of the Sonatina Romantica have been published thus far, the Moderato and Nocturne both published in 1986. Soon after Stephen Hough recorded them for Virgin Classics, but it is not known if the Burlesque and Toccata are likely to go the same way any time soon.

The four movement work is dedicated to William B. Titley, described in the work’s Britten Thematic Catalogue entry as ‘the superintendent of the Long Island Home where Britten and Pears stayed during their time in America. The dedication is not included in the published score’.

The work merits a mention from John Bridcut in his Essential Britten book, though he does not describe the actual music.


A relatively dry couple of movements, these, as if written expressly for the purpose of study. The textures of the rather terse Moderato hint at Beethoven, the melodic material is quite distinctive if relatively routine.

The Nocturne has more of a beating heart, hinting here and there at the influence of Chopin, Schumann even, but there is little material here that makes a lasting impression, even after a few listens. The suspicion is that Britten intended this for private use rather than public performance.

Recordings used

Stephen Hough (piano) (Virgin Classics)

Hough plays this as well as one could wish, though his recorded sound is relatively close and dry.

No links available

Also written in 1940: Stravinsky – Symphony in C

Next up: Diversions for piano (left hand) and orchestra, Op.21

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