Britten, Benjamin: Suite No. 3 for Solo Cello

The third cello suite of Benjamin Britten – like the Sonata in C for cello and piano, the ‘Cello Symphony’, and the first two cello suites – was written for Britten’s friend Mstislav Rostropovich. It was also a tribute to Dmitri Shostakovich, who introduced the two men at the London premiere of his own Cello Concerto in 1960. (Britten had many friends among Soviet musicians: there is some beautiful footage of a two-piano concert with the mysterious Sviatoslav Richter, who dropped in, rather suddenly, to play Schubert at Britten’s festival in Aldeburgh). The third suite is based on three Russian songs (Mournful Song, Autumn, and Street Song) from Tchaikovsky’s volumes of arrangements, and on Kontakion (Hymn for the Departed) which he found in the English Hymnal. The form of the suite, stretched over nine movements, is simple, but backwards: the variations come first, and the themes are revealed in the coda. It is Britten’s last work for the cello, completed in 1971.

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