Listening to Britten – Timpani piece for Jimmy

The percussionist James Blades.
Image courtesy of Photographers Direct

Timpani piece for Jimmy for timpani and piano (8 – 9 December 1955, Britten aged 41)

Dedication James Blades
Duration 1’30”

Background and Critical Reception

Britten and Pears travelled widely in the mid-1950s, and it appears that while they were stopping over in Istanbul, Britten found time to write this short piece for the English Opera Group percussionist, James Blades.

Certainly the Britten Thematic Catalogue entry pins it down to either of the two dates above, where Britten informs Imogen Holst by letter that he has completed the piece ‘on a free morning’.


The Britten of the Cabaret Songs makes a brief comeback for this entertaining piece, where the piano takes the lead melodically but the real hard work is given to the timpanist. This is especially true in the central section, where the same theme is essentially turned over in a different key, before the music heads home again for a cheeky final sentence.

My suspicion is that Britten, as in so much of his music, was capturing the personality of the person he was writing for! In doing so he composed an intriguing lollipop that could double as a tricky specialist quiz question.

Recordings used

James Blades (timpani), Joan Goossens (piano) (Decca)

Quite a close recording for this brief piece, but the slightly dampened sound quality actually enhances its 1930s links.


Perhaps not surprisingly, as Blades’ version seems to be the only one available, no interpretations of this piece can be found on Spotify.

Also written in 1955: Tippett – Sonata for Four Horns

Next up: The shooting of his dear

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