Record of the day: Benjamin Britten, "String Quartets Vol. I"

Record of the day: Benjamin Britten, “String Quartets Vol. I”

Benjamin Britten
String Quartets Vol. I (Cd Naxos 8.553883)

In a historical moment like the one that followed the Second World War, in which the main aesthetic compositional currents seemed to be solely divided between followers of Schönberg and followers of Stravinsky, the music of authors such as Bartók and Britten provided a way out for many composers who didn't want to find themselves trapped in one of the two factions.

Britten enjoyed broad consensus from performers and the public during his lifetime, while his relationship with
with critics, who long considered him a brilliant follower and refused to put him on the same level as his other colleagues.
Together with Walton, however, Britten was the architect of a renewed interest on the part of the musical world towards England thanks to the worldwide success of his theatrical masterpieces such as “Peter Grimes”, “The Turn of the Screw”, “A Midsummer's Night Dream”, now entered into the operatic repertoire in all respects.

Less known is his orchestral production (except for the “War Requiem”) and perhaps even more neglected is his chamber music, where Britten instead poured some of the ripest fruits of his genius, demonstrating a great writing ability and an intensity of inspiration that undoubtedly make them the most important figure to appear on the British composition scene since Purcell.

Within his vast production, the String Quartets stand out, among the greatest examples of the genre, whose circulation is limited by the extreme performance difficulty that these pieces require of the performers, called to face steps of reckless virtuosity and at the same time to achieve a truly challenging overall cohesion.
Written between 1941 and 1945, in their feverish, dizzying juxtaposition of transparent passages and complex textures, these
the first two Quartets anticipate the character of many pages of the opera Peter Grimes, alternating moments of great drama with others where Britten's passion for Shostakovich's sarcastic humor seems to make its way.

The use of ancient forms such as the Passacaglia, the Ground or the Variations reveals Britten's great love for the musicians of the Elizabethan period, but he manages to never fall into academicism by revitalizing these forms with freshness and making them vibrant again.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” by Einaudi, courtesy of author and publisher.