BRITTEN Benjamin, Three Divertimenti for String Quartet

Britten planned these movements as part of a five-movement Quartetto serioso with a subtitle from Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale: “Go play, boy, play!” An earlier version of the opening March was written for a suite inspired by the film Emil and the Detectives (the children’s novel by Erich Kästner was a great favourite of Britten’s), but this was never completed. Eventually he settled on a work in three movements, and the first performance was given by the Stratton Quartet at the Wigmore Hall on 25 February 1936. The audience response was chilly and a hurt Britten withdrew the Three Divertimenti, which were only published after his death. His brilliant gift for idiomatic quartet writing is already apparent in this early work – from the arresting rhythms and textures of the March to the beguiling central Waltz, and the driving energy of the closing Burlesque.


© Nigel Simeone


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