BRITTEN Benjamin, String Quartet No. 2, Op. 36

Allegro calmo, senza rigore
Chacony: sostenuto 

Britten composed his String Quartet No. 2 in September and October 1945 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Purcell’s death. It was given its premiere by the Zorian Quartet at the Wigmore Hall on 21 November 1945 in one of a pair of concerts  where music by Purcell was performed alongside two new works by Britten (this quartet and the Holy Sonnets of John Donne, first performed the following evening). Though the first movement is, broadly, in sonata form, as Michael Kennedy has pointed out, ‘there seems to be more of the free fantasia about it than adherence to classical precepts.’ The opening presents three ideas, all based on the wide interval of a 10th, and what follows is an almost continuous development of these ideas, until, at last, C major is established in the coda. The second movement is a strange and rather disturbing Scherzo, the strings muted throughout. The Chacony (its title a clear homage to Purcell) is much the longest of the three movements. A grandly-conceived set of variations (interspersed with solo cadenzas), it reaches a triumphant climax with repeated C major chords.  

© Nigel Simeone, 2022 


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