BENJAMIN BRITTEN
(1913 -1975)
Sonata in C, Op.65 1960


Britten had become a senior figure in British music by the time he met Mstislav Rostropovitch in 1960. An immediate kinship between the shy composer and the titan of cellists inspired the Sonata in C. Born only months before this piece it would take me twenty years to meet it, yet in that time this great friendship would lead to three solo suites and the Cello Symphony.


The form of this five-movement sonata is closer to that of a suite. Dialogo follows the course of a conversation between the two instruments, the bright, brittle character of Scherzo - Pizzicato uses plucked sounds for the cello and leads us to the emotional centre: Elegia — a mellifluous threnody affirming deep feelings of sorrow at the human wastage of war. These feelings return in the military lampoon of Marcia but the exhilaration of the Moto Perpetuo recovers a positive mood revealing Britten’s invention at its most fertile. The entire work explores the different sound possibilities of the two instruments and opposes these for contrast rather than blend.


In the mid 1970’s I attended a master class given by Mr. Rostropovitch in Britten’s adopted hometown of Aldeburgh. The class was as intense and arresting as one would expect but a hush descended when the composer entered his private box- Such was the reverence held for this small and frail person it was as if we had been blessed by a visit from another world.

 

We owe so much to the gigantic presence of Mstislav Rostropovich. This cellistic icon has been the catalyst for a huge expansion of our repertoire. Works by almost every major composer of our time exist as a direct result of his authority. Even those works without the immediate connection of dedication or premiere surely acknowledge a debt to his influence. He speaks of his friend:


His music is not always directly and immediately open; the emotions lie inside, so gentle, so lyrical, and yet so powerful as it reaches the heart of the listener.

 

© 2019 by Simon Fryer. All rights reserved.