Listening to Britten – Matinées musicales, Op.24

The Rehearsal by Edgar Degas
Photo from Wikipaintings, painting currently held by the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Matinées musicales, Op.24 – Second Suite of five movements from Rossini for orchestra (June 1941, Britten aged 27)

1 March (arrangement of ‘Pas de six’ from Guillaume Tell, Act 1)
2 Nocturne (Soirées musicales no. 10, ‘La Pesca’)
3 Waltz (Soirées musicales no. 4, ‘L’orgia’)
4 Pantomime (Soirées musicales no. 2, ‘Il rimproveso’)
5 Moto perpetuo (Gorgheggi e solfeggi)

Dedication Lincoln Kerstein – writer and impresario
Duration 13′

Audio clips

1. March

2. Nocturne


4. Pantomime

5. Moto perpetuo

Background and Critical Reception

Matinées musicales was commissioned and published as a companion piece to the brief suite of Soirées musicales from 1936, also based on the themes of Rossini. Together the two met Lincoln Kerstein’s brief for the American Ballet Company to perform both suites together as a Divertimento, earning Britten a precious wage in the process.

John Bridcut acknowledges the effectiveness of these pieces but expresses a preference for the Rossini Suite, on account of its reduced and more quirky instrumentation. However, as noted with the Soirées Musicales, Britten’s invention in recasting the material for orchestra makes it worthy of more regular performances – even if this suite is slightly less popular.


More proof – if it were needed after Paul Bunyan – that Britten knew how to have some fun. Matinées Musicales has the same charm as his previous Rossini reworkings, with his orchestration allowing the sparkling melodies and humour plenty of room to come through.

Perhaps the most charming of the five movements is the slow Nocturne, topped with celeste and doubled clarinets – it’s a lovely piece of music, perfect for the ballet. The March is enjoyably cheeky, the Waltz turns quite briskly and the Pantomime dances with a winsome oboe solo. All that and the effervescent finale show why the Rossini arrangements are an obvious choice!

Recordings used

National Philharmonic Orchestra / Richard Bonynge (Decca)
English Chamber Orchestra / Sir Alexander Gibson (EMI)
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra / Okko Kamu (Ondine)

As with the Soirées musicales it is odd to note that this suite has had just a handful of recordings, but the two principal ones are of such good quality that perhaps they are felt to be sufficient.

Richard Bonynge is a natural in this sort of music, and under his baton it sparkles with wit and candour. Sir Alexander Gibson has slightly reduced orchestra forces for EMI, but finds the same level of enjoyment. Okko Kamu’s recording for Ondine, coupled with the Soirées musicales and Ralf Gothoni playing the Piano Concerto, is nicely done too, if a bit fast in the Waltz. It is part of a well thought out disc if not finding quite the same levels as its competitors.


A playlist of the Rossini originals, their counterparts as arranged by Britten for the film, and the Soirées musicales and Matinées Musicales themselves (the Okko Kamu versions) can all be found on an updated playlist here

Also written in 1941: Gerhard – Sinfonía homenaje a Pedrell

Next up: Mazurka Elegiaca, Op.23 No.2

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