In writing up the press materials for our upcoming Sampler Pack concert on August 31st, I've found myself referring to Britten's Three Divertimenti as "pop-music-posing-as-
classical." As a music writer doing daily battle with reductive genre labels, this hyphenated moniker is a little cheap on my part, and when it comes down to it, only applies to the second movement Waltz.
In any case, "pop" is not a pejorative term in my world. While studying this piece, I've been continually astounded by the simplicity and ear-worm-iness of each melody. Where it becomes distinctly Britten is in the sterling orchestration, clarity of the primary voice, and of course, the occasional gnarly harmonic breakdown. What struck me when I first heard the Waltz, though, was how perfectly this innocent tune would slip into pretty much any Wes Anderson film ever. Like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums or Moonrise Kingdom, the naiveté of adults and children alike is thrown into stark contrast with the often cold realities of life.
During an early rehearsal of the Waltz, Aurelien commented that the music evoked for him the picture of a young girl who, while twirling about, has tiny glimpses of future hardships. Shifting harmonies that lead back to the theme and a mid-movement agitato/con fuoco passage are the broken hearts here. There is something about 3/4 time signatures that stirs the nostalgic, the wistful and the unblemished in us. Perhaps it is because it's the first style we learn in ballroom dance class. We all did cotillion, right? Right? Oh boy…
Not all 3/4 tunes are waltzes, but that fact notwithstanding, there's something about 3/4 and 6/8 that is perfectly situated for a pop ballad. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
Metallica - Nothing Else Matters
Elliott Smith - Waltz #2
These songs instantly shift me into the bliss of nostalgia, and in each, the charm of the meter and the melancholy of the lyrics create a compelling dichotomy. The same can be said for Britten, and before I get completely lost down this rabbit hole, here's what you're in for on the 31st: