Guest post by Ben Goldscheider

The Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings by Benjamin Britten is one of the many works written for the great horn player of the twentieth century, Dennis Brain. It had its first performance on the 15th October 1943 at the Wigmore Hall with Brain playing and Peter Pears singing.

What, to me, is so remarkable in this piece is how Britten uses the horn as an unspoken commentator on the text sung by the Tenor. This is introduced in the Prologue which is a short movement for solo horn, setting a rather haunting atmosphere that sets up the reflective mood of the following movement, the Pastoral. Britten was seemingly trying very hard to push the limits of a seemingly invincible Dennis Brain, indicating that the Prologue be played on the natural partials of the horn; a recipe for disaster for many other horn players! He makes particular use of the 7th, 11th and 14th partials which, on the horns natural configuration, are “out of tune” to our modern tempered ears. I like to think that Britten was both pushing forward in terms of technical challenges and musical idiom but also looking back, using the natural harmonics of an instrument very much connected to nature, a theme that is central to the Serenade.

Britten’s style of “word painting”, that is, to match the music with the literal meaning of the text, is masterful throughout the Serenade. The opening verse of the Pastoral,  “The Day’s grown old; the fainting sun/ Has but a little way to run”  evokes a very reflective or even sombre feeling which is perfectly encapsulated by the descending triadic melody in D-flat Major that dominates the movement. Sharing this melody between horn and voice, Britten manages to create a musical language in which, after a period of time, merges the dialogue between horn and voice into one expressive gesture.

Again in the following movement, the Nocturne, Britten’s use of the horn to accentuate the power of the text is central to the musical message. He uses the phrase “Blow, bugle blow” from Tennyson’s The Princess which is then punctuated by the horn playing rapid fanfare figures, starting further away in a very quiet dynamic before coming to the fore at the height of the horn’s range and dynamic powers. In the third movement, the phrase, “O rose, thou art Sick” by William Blake is expressed by a mournful descending semitone figure over a pulsating string ostinato that pushes the music in a very uneasy way.

In the Hymn, a movement based on text by Ben Jonson, Britten continues in the tradition of the Mozart and Strauss Horn Concertos by writing a rondo-like figure in 6/8 time. Britten chose words from Cynthia’s Revels which is a play that depicts Queen Elizabeth I as the virgin huntress Cynthia. This allowed Britten the freedom to deploy the horn in its typical hunting style in an extremely lively movement that finishes with the horn player walking off stage to prepare for the Epilogue. Whilst the piece is by no means humorous, I can’t help but find connotations with the humour written into the horn part of the Mozart Horn Concertos by the composer himself, often making fun of, and insulting, the horn player. It cannot be a coincidence, or at least Britten himself must have had it in his conscience, that following a 6/8 movement (all of Mozart’s Horn Concertos finish with a lively 6/8 Rondo), Britten writes one of the lowest notes available on the horn (perhaps he liked the idea that one may miss this note and then have to walk off stage embarrassed) before the horn player has to leave in an almost comedic effect. I have never played this piece without hearing at least one snigger from the audience…

As a piece, Britten’s Serenade is written extremely well for the horn. It is very idiomatic, despite its challenging aspects of endurance and sheer technical capability. What is rather rare to the piece is that Britten writes the expressive phrases in sonorities that sit very well on the instrument: he writes the explosive figures at a range in which the horn player will be able to fully express the meaning of the music and he writes with a full understanding of the instrument’s capacity to be a perfect partner to the sensitivity of the voice. I personally find it hugely rewarding to play and it is an absolute joy to be able to play such a masterpiece with the human voice, an instrument which is to me, the epitome of expression.

I very much look forward to playing this piece on 16th March at Cadogan Hall with the English Chamber Orchestra with Ben Johnson (Tenor) and Jessica Cottis (conductor). More information


d68502_b03c86f3f58d41b592ad96ad328dbb7dmv2_d_3477_5150_s_4_2_srz_970_903_85_22_0-50_1-20_0At the age of eighteen, Ben Goldscheider reached the Final of the 2016 BBC Young Musician Competition, where he performed at London’s Barbican Hall with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Since then, he has performed at venues including the Berlin Philharmonie, Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre and London’s Royal Albert Hall, where he made his BBC Proms Debut in 2018. He has also appeared as soloist with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Aurora Orchestra and City of London Sinfonia. In 2018, Ben released his debut album with Willowhayne Records to critical acclaim, and was selected both as BBC Music Magazine’s “Rising Star” and Gramophone Magazine’s “One to Watch”.

This season, Ben makes concerto debuts with the English Chamber Orchestra, Manchester Camerata and the Prague Philharmonia.  In February he returns to the Berlin Philarmonie to perform the Gliere Horn Concerto with das Sinfonie Orchester Berlin conducted by Radek Baborák. A committed chamber musician, Ben has performed at London’s Wigmore Hall with tenor Julian Prégardien and pianist Christoph Schnackertz, the Pierre Boulez Saal alongside Daniel Barenboim and Michael Barenboim and the Verbier Festival with Sergei Babayan. Future highlights include the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival and Trio concerts with Callum Smart (violin) and Richard Uttley (piano) across the UK, featuring the premiere of a new work by Geoffrey Gordon in London. Sought-after as an orchestral player, he has performed as guest with the Staatskapelle Berlin, Philharmonia, English Chamber, West-Eastern Divan Orchestras and in 2018, played the solo horn call from Wagner’s Siegfried in a semi-staged production with The Hallé and Sir Mark Elder.

Read more

Meet the Artist interview with Ben Goldscheider


An intimate portrait of Benjamin Britten, as seen through a sequence of bittersweet songs for voice and piano and voice and guitar, provided the perfect antidote to the Wagner marathon at the Proms. The concert included an intense and very moving performance of the Canticle ‘Abraham and Isaac’ with tenor James Gilchrist, soprano Ruby Hughes and Imogen Cooper at the piano.

Read my full review here

Watch the entire concert (click on the picture to go to the BBC Radio Three website)


1359142475A group of Durham musicians are planning the first performance in Durham for fifteen years of an opera written for young people. In the first of two events this year to mark the centenary of composer Benjamin Britten, the Durham Singers are leading a project with local children to mount a fully staged performance of Noye’s Fludde.

This short opera is based on a 15th-century mystery play, and tells the familiar Bible story of Noah’s Ark. Britten wrote the opera with the idea that people of all ages and musical abilities should be involved, from the young children who sing the parts of the animals, to the audience themselves, who have the opportunity to join in with rousing settings of three well-known hymns. The animal parts will be played by Durham Cathedral’s outreach choir – the Durham Cathedral Young Singers, and by younger pupils from Durham Johnston School. Forty-nine different animals are named in the text, from rats and mice to lions and camels, and including a number of bird species. One member of the cast will be enjoying spectacular promotion: The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham Cathedral played the part of a goat in one of the very first performances of the work, and he returns to the work now to play The Voice of God.

The opera is accompanied by an orchestra that includes parts written specifically for young, inexperienced players. These parts will be taken by musicians from Durham Johnston School, giving them a unique opportunity to play alongside professional orchestral players. They’ll also be playing some other rather unusual instruments; a set of mugs hung on a string is used to create the effect of the first raindrops. A group of young singers drawn from the recently launched Samling Academy will take the major solo roles, with 20-year old mezzo-soprano Charlotte Heslop from Spennymoor singing the part of Mrs Noye. Charlotte is currently studying voice with Miranda Wright on the Young Musician Programme at The Sage Gateshead and has previously appeared as Second Witch in the Miranda Wright Singers production of Dido and Aeneas and as alto soloist in the Durham Singers’ performance of Mozart’s Requiem, and this is her first major role.

They’ll be joined by professional bass-baritone Richard Strivens as Mr Noye, who won’t just be leading his flock into the ark – he’ll be leading them musically too, as Mr Strivens will be spending several days prior to the concert working with the young singers coaching them and guiding them in their roles. Musical Director of the Durham Singers, Dr Julian Wright, explained how the idea of sharing musical knowledge and experience is central to this piece:

“Britten wrote this piece specifically to engage young people – both players and singers – with music and drama. Like Britten himself, the groups involved are dedicated to spreading the message of great music and drama to communities and age groups that had not benefited from this. But one of the most important messages will be that of musical humility. Noye’s sons and daughters are up-and-coming singers in their early twenties. They will learn, from Britten’s musical generosity, about how music can be shared with amateurs and children; and that is the message for the Durham Singers as well, as we support this huge collaboration between different musicians of different levels of experience.”

The opera will be preceded with two shorter works by Britten. In keeping with the theme of God’s blessings on his creation, the Durham Singers will sing Rejoice in the Lamb, a vivid setting of an eighteenth-century poem written by Christopher Smart. The concert will open with the Fanfare for St Edmundsbury, a work for three solo trumpets, dispersed around the cathedral.

The concert has been supported by a grant from the Britten Pears Foundation

Date: 2 March 2013

Durham Cathedral, 7pm

Fanfare for St Edmundsbury
Rejoice in the Lamb
Jubilate in C
Noye’s Fludde

Tickets: £18 adults, £12 students/children, available from the Gala Theatre box office ( tel 0191 334 4041)

In the summer, Durham Singers will join forces with an up-and-coming chamber choir called Renaissance to will explore the links between Britten, Purcell, Britten’s contemporaries and those who have come after him. It will include “Where is thy God” by Ben Rowarth, which won the NCEM composition prize last year, conducted by the composer.

Durham Singers is a chamber choir of about 40 adult amateur singers who enjoy performing an adventurous repertory of mostly unaccompanied choral music, to the highest possible standard. In recent years, they have performed music by contemporary composers, such as Richard Rodney Bennet, Paul Spicer and Julian Anderson, alongside a core repertoire of English renaissance and romantic music.

Full details at


A number of artists who have participated in my Meet the Artist series are involved in concerts and events to mark the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten. In a series of occasional posts, I will be highlighting these concerts while allowing readers the opportunity to revisit some of the Meet the Artist interviews.

Britten at 100 – Kings Place, London: Thursday 7th – Saturday 9th February 2013

British pianist John Reid is presenting his first concert series in London at King’s Place as part of the celebrations for the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten.

Fellow-pianist Andrew Matthews-Owen and John have gathered together a wonderful group of performers to celebrate the life and work of Benjamin Britten, through his music, works by his contemporaries (composers, librettists and visual artists), the repertoire which he championed as founder and director of the Aldeburgh Festival, as well as through commissions by Simon Holt, Jonathan Dove and Martin Suckling.

Other performers include Nicky Spence, Nicholas Mulroy, Joby Burgess, Claire Booth, Andrew Radley, Oliver Coates, Richard Watkins and Christine Croshaw.

Saver ticket: Only £9.50! Your seats will be the best available left 1 hour before the performance. Book early as seats are allocated based on first come, first served.

Further information and tickets here

John Reid’s Meet the Artist interview