David Forrest

The Interplay of Tonal and Symmetrical Elements in Britten

Many scholars have shown that Britten’s aesthetic often centers on conflict of musical elements, such as tonal center, textural strata, meter, and performing forces. This paper focuses on the ways in which Britten sets tonal and symmetrical processes in direct dialogue with each other for a variety of expressive purposes.  Rather than subsuming synthetic elements into an otherwise tonal language, Britten’s music often shows a deliberate parsing of the two techniques, revealing another dimension of conflict.  Drawing on a wide variety of examples, this study reveals a range of techniques and purposes for setting tonal and symmetrical elements in opposition.  Furthermore, the sequence of examples suggests a growth in sophistication across Britten’s prolific career.