Listening to Britten – Scherzo for recorder quartet

Fieldfare (c) Graham Catley, whose rather wonderful blog Pewit can be found here

Scherzo for recorder quartet (November 1954, Britten aged 40)

Dedication Aldeburgh Music Club
Instrumentation Four recorders: descant, treble, tenor, bass (or 2nd tenor)
Duration 3′

Background and Critical Reception

It transpires that the recorder manufacturer Carl Dolmetsch had sent Britten some instruments in the hope this would inspire him to write his first music for recorders. Characteristically Britten obliged, but not in the way his commissioner might have expected or hoped! This piece was written for the Aldeburgh Music Club, and there is a memorable library picture of Imogen Holst conducting a team of recorder players, including Britten and Pears, out on the Meare during the festival.

There was not much more forthcoming for the instrument from Britten either, though he did write an Alpine Suite for private performance, of which later on, and game the instrument some distinctive parts in Noye’s Fludde or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


It is refreshing at this stage in Britten’s career to hear a completely new sonority in his published work – a sign of his continuing development as an instrumental composer, despite the intensity of focus on the stage and the voice in recent years.

The Scherzo is quite a fun piece, with lots of written out trills for its introduction, and then a perky theme given in block chords, before a more graceful slower trio section is introduced.

It has to be said that listening to this exposed a form of prejudice in my musical listening, for hearing the sound of recorders together always takes me back to school. Once over that low lying barrier, however, it proves easy to appreciate the charm and wistful nostalgia that goes behind this piece, which would undoubtedly make a good encore.

Recordings used

The Flautadors (Dutton Epoch)

The Scherzo is part of a disc from The Flautadors, who have imaginatively compiled all the recorder works by Britten and Rubbra as part of an intriguing addition to Dutton’s Epoch label of British classical music. It is very well played and recorded.


Unfortunately this piece is not available on Spotify, but a snippet (indeed, probably a quarter!) of it can be heard over on the <a href =””

Also written in 1954: Varèse – Déserts (begun in 1950)

Next up: The deaf woman’s courtship

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

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