About this work
When a composer of note writes a string quartet very near to his death, and we have reason to know that the composer felt the imminence of the end, the listener somehow expects a personal deathbed statement, as it were, from this most intimate of musical media. Britten's final quartet meets this expectation.
It is in a five movement form; like Britten's Second Quartet it contains a Passacaglia final movement and makes notable use of cadenzas. Very rarely for Britten there is a quotation from an earlier work. For there are frequent allusions to Britten's last opera, Death in Venice. Indeed, the final movement of the quartet is named "La Serenissima, " which is an old title for the Venetian Republic. Death in Venice occupied a very special place in Britten's output, for it was only then that he dealt openly with homosexuality as the main subject of a major work.
Britten revisited Venice after his half-successful surgery (he suffered his stroke during the surgery). It was a place he had always loved, as well as being the setting of the opera, and perhaps he realized it was his last visit. During the trip wrote the string quartet in order to be sure of fulfilling a long-standing promise that sometime he would write another quartet; it is also likely that he realized that he must write it now. So his quotations from his Venetian opera are fraught with personal significance. There is an air of serene beauty, of an acceptance of self, that perhaps was achieved through the self-examination that was inevitable in composing Death in Venice, and which Britten may have wanted to link to the city itself in the homage he gave it in this masterpiece of the modern string quartet.
Curated by Natalia Fernández Muela, Primephonic Catalog Specialist