Listening to Britten – Valse in B major


The church of St Peter, Lowestoft, in the early 1920s. Photo used courtesy of the Suffolk Churches website

Valse in B major for violin and piano (4 October 1925, Britten aged 11)

Dedication not known
Duration 2’30”

Background and Critical Reception

The Britten Thematic catalogue lists the Valse as a violin and piano version of Untitled piece in B major, which itself appears to have been another piece labelled with the deliberately incorrect title of Walzt. The catalogue goes on to link the melody of the piece to the later Simple Symphony.

Other than that not much is known about this piece of juvenilia, completed when Britten was on the verge of turning 12. It has only recently received a first recording, from the violinist Matthew Jones, whose self-penned CD booklet does not refer to the piece explicitly.

Thoughts

The Valse is a graceful and slightly melancholic piece, one that suggests Britten has been listening to some Schubert but also implying a more romantic source – Kreisler, perhaps. The violin writing is rich, with many instances of multiple stopped notes, so effectively the piece is in three parts.

The lilting contours of the piece also suggest a watery theme, which for a composer not yet in his teens is already pleasingly advanced.

Recordings used

Matthew Jones (violin), Annabel Thwaite (piano) (Naxos)

In the first recording of the Valse, Matthew Jones and Annabel Thwaite give an eloquent and affectionate performance, tailing off rather nicely at the end.

Given the difficulty of the key of B major for string players, Jones’ tuning is extremely good.

Spotify

The new recording from Matthew Jones and Annabel Thwaite is not available on Spotify – but further details can be found on the Naxos website.

Also written in 1926: Krenek – Johnny spielt auf

Next up: Oh Take Those Lips Away

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