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Composed: 1930

About this Piece

The single movement of a never-finished wind sextet is in several ways an outlier in Britten’s career, perhaps owing to it having been written when a 16-year-old composer was in his final term at Gresham’s School just before entering the Royal College of Music. First, it is the only composition Britten wrote for solo wind ensemble—featuring a traditional wind quintet with an additional bass clarinet. Secondly, and likely because it was a piece composed as a student, it shows Britten exploring the ideas of Arnold Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. Britten would make use of atonality in his compositions, but later works—as he better defined his own harmonic perspective—used the atonal elements for special impact in a largely tonal soundscape.

Scholars speculate perhaps the young Britten was trying to impress his mentors or maybe it was just part of the natural exploration of a developing artist seeing what ideas resonate with him on his path to finding his mature voice. Philip Reed, writing for the 1995 recording of the piece for Hyperion Records, notes it is likely that Britten heard Leoš Janácek’s Mládí (scored for the same sextet of instruments), which would have made its way to English music shops a few years prior. Regardless of the source of the influence or Britten’s goal, the Movement for Wind Sextet shows sophistication beyond Britten’s years in its construction, hinting at the master orchestrator he would become. Ricky O’Bannon