Matthew Barley/Cellist

Music always wins.

Samuel Beckett

I Introduzione: Lento
II Marcia: Allegro
III Canto: Con moto
IV Barcarola: Lento
V Dialogo: Allegretto
VI Fuga: Andante espressivo
VII Recitativo: Fantastico
VIII Moto perpetuo: Presto
IX Passacaglia: Lento solenne
Mournful Song
Street Song
Depart in peace, with the Saints (Kontakion)

“I wrote this suite in the early spring of 1971 and took it as a present to Slava Rostropovich when Peter Pears and I visited Moscow and Leningrad in April of that year. The occasion was a week of British Music, and our programme with the London Symphony Orchestra was made memorable by the fact that both Richter and Rostropovich joined us — surely a unique gesture of Anglo-Russian friendship.

As a tribute to a great Russian musician and patriot I based this suite on Russian themes: the first three tunes were taken from Tchaikovsky’s volumes of folk song arrangements; the fourth, the ‘Kontakion’ (Hymn for the departed), from the English Hymnal. When I played the suite through to Dmitri Shostakovich during our visit to Moscow, he remarked that he had been brought up on a different version of the Kontakion. I consulted my friend Bishop Pimen of Saratov and Volgograd, who confirmed that my version was the one he had always known and regularly used. In the score I print both versions, for the players to choose whichever they prefer.” Benjamin Britten

Based on these four tunes, the suite is akin to a set of variations. One or other of them is present at almost any moment in the nine movements. The suite begins simply, like an invocation, using the Kontakion (the most frequently used of the themes), and then starts its fascinating journey: the urgent Marcia, the winding, searching Canto, the Bach-like Barcarola, the alternately ‘grotesco’ (Britten’s marking) and measured Dialogo, the impassioned Fuga, flighty Recitativo, and scurrying sinuous Moto perpetuo — until the turbulently argued Passacaglia comes to a close, and then the four themes are played in the original form, bringing peace to the end.

Click here to read about Benjamin Britten.

Click here to go back to programme information.