Listening to Britten – Etude for solo viola

Gresham’s Senior Prep (c) Evelyn Simak

Etude for solo viola (18 February 1929, Britten aged 15)

Dedication not known
Duration 2’30”

Audio and Notation

The notation for the Etude, together with a recording made by Henrietta Hill, can be found as part of the Britten Thematic Catalogue entry for the work.

Background and Critical Reception

The Etude is a recently discovered and recorded work of Britten’s that was composed at Gresham’s, just one day before the song Lilian. He arranged the piece for violin just over a month later.

Matthew Jones recorded the Etude as part of his Reflections disc for Naxos, issued in the Britten 100 year. In a review of the disc, Classics Today’s David Vernier describes the piece as ‘an ambitious work by any standard, but especially for a 15-year-old who presumably was able not only to write it but to play it’.


Britten’s first available published piece for viola is set in the key of C major, making the most of the viola’s bottom string.

It is a busy and brisk piece that chugs along with full bodied chords, a waltz that has a surprisingly catchy theme. After some tricky passagework a calmer section moves the music into G major and brighter writing, before the main thematic material comes back and we turn for home – and an emphatic, rather grand ending.

Recordings used

Matthew Jones (viola) (Naxos)

Jones negotiates the tricky passages in more than one part with relative ease, and although the recording is a little dry his is an extremely effective performance.


Not yet available.

Also written in 1930: Villa-Lobos – 12 Etudes for guitar

Next up: Miniature Suite for string quartet

This entry was posted in Chamber music, Listening to Britten, Solo instrument and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Listening to Britten – Etude for solo viola

  1. Pingback: Listening to Britten – Miniature Suite for string quartet | Good Morning Britten

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