Learning Log

Research Point: Thomas Britton

Britton is today known as a salesman for coal, hobby musician and event organizer. He was born in Northamtonshire in 1644 and moved to London at a young age, as an apprentice small-coal-man. Today mostly known as “the musical small-coal man” (Thomas, C; 1922). Interestingly, music wasn’t his own passion, apparently, Britton also had great knowledge in chemistry, alchemy, philosophy and was also known as a collector of old books.1,2

Britton himself played the recorder and the viola da gamba. He also wrote short pieces for the alto – flute. Nonetheless, he is mostly known for organizing concerts of chamber music at his home in Clerkenwell. Even though the room he used was originally in a miserable condition, a loft above his coal-store, the only access to which, …, was a narrowbreack-neck pair of steps, (Thomas, C; 1922), he organised small concerts regularly starting in 1678, which were held weekly for almost 40 years. Initially, Britton only organized these events to entertain people for free, but through the growing success, he started taking money for an annual subscribtion. And this, he became one of the earliest concert promoters. (Squaremilehealthwalks, 2017). He used some of the money to install new instruments in the small concert room, such as a harpsichord and an organ. 1,2,3

John Hawkins, an author of the early 18th century, was one of the first ones to see the importance of Britton’s influence. As he saw this kind of public events as a commendably significant innovation in London public life.(…) In the later seventeenth century there had been public operatic performances. Chamber music had been practised primarily as an elegant pastime in bourgeois and aristocratic circles. (Löffler, A. 1999). 1,2,4

As his enterprise grew, more and more musicians were drawn to play in Britton’s housing. It was in such surroundings that Handel and Dr. Pepusch displayed their talents upon the harpsichord and organ. (Thomas, C. 1922). Handel is often mentioned as the most celebrated performer to play in Brittons loft. 1,4

There is only little known about the pieces where presented there. According to Ramée (2012), Pepusch (mentioned above) is meant to have written music directly for small scale and relatively personal settings, such as Britton’s concerts. A by Pepusch labelled “Concerto Grosso in B-flat” is meant to be associated with Brittons music club, even though it was a piece written for a solo violin. Furthermore, a few members of a at this time well known ensemble The 24 violins are also meant to have pieces a few pieces, either alone or in small groups. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find out what the performers played. 5,6

Reflection: Initially, I found it difficult to find enough content about Britton, as he is unfortunately barely mentioned anywhere. After a thorough look, I eventually found some interesting articles about Britton. Even though I realize, that he was a great influence for the growing chamber music events of the 17th and 18th century, I personally would have liked to write more about some better known performers and composers he worked with. Again, I found it rather difficult finding enough material to write about this topic. Otherwise I thought this was a rather unusual, yet important research point, as most of my study work has evolved around composers and performances. Obviously, organizing concerts and events to promote composers and their music seems just as important as writing music in the first place, and I only noticed through this research point how vital events like Britton’s were to develop a broad accessibility of music for everyone.

1 Thomas, C. (1922). Thomas Britton: The Musical Small-Coal Man. [online].The Musical Times, Vol. 63, No. 952. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/909467?saml_data=eyJzYW1sVG9rZW4iOiJiMmIwNmYzYi0xNjY0LTRmNDYtYTg1Zi0wNDNmYjg2MTViMTciLCJpbnN0aXR1dGlvbklkcyI6WyJkYjVhZTY5Ni00YjJjLTRmYmYtODU0NC00MjY1OGE2ZDAxMDkiXX0&seq=2 [Accessed: 05.05.2022]

2 Löffler,A. (1999) Thomas Britton, the “Musical Smallcoal-Man”. [online].Erfurth Electronic Studies in English. Webdoc. Available at: http://webdoc.sub.gwdg.de/edoc/ia/eese/artic99/loeff2/brit.html [Accessed: 05.05.2022]

3 SQUAREMILEHEALTHWALKS, (2017). Thomas Britton. [online]. Available at: https://squaremilehealthwalks.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/thomas-britton/ [Accessed: 05.05.2022]

4 Thornton,S. (2007). Thomas Britton. The “famous musical small-coal-man”. [online]. Rushden Research. Available at: https://www.rushdenheritage.co.uk/people/brittonthomas.html [Accessed: 05.05.2022]

5 Ramée, R. (2012). Johann Christoph Pepusch – Concertos and Ouvertures for London. [online]. The Harmonious Society of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen. Available at: https://mural.maynoothuniversity.ie/7782/7/EM-ECM%2011I2%20CD%20review.pdf [Accessed: 06.05.2022]

6 Spitzer, J and Zaslaw, N. (2004). The Birth of the Orchestra – History of an institution, 1650 – 1815. [online]. Music History and Literature San Fransisco Conservatory of Music. Available at: https://books.google.at/books?id=bur3UFIf-ywC&pg=PA271&lpg=PA271&dq=thomas+britton+%22string%22+concerts&source=bl&ots=OGsnI-vPs0&sig=ACfU3U10n6lZ5mUPX3dqk_N7rS2NrEXB2A&hl=de&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiBss3X_8r3AhWqgv0HHUVFCo0Q6AF6BAggEAM#v=onepage&q=thomas%20britton%20%22string%22%20concerts&f=false [Accessed: 06.05.2022]

Project 8: A String Duet

Exercise: I was asked to listen to a few pieces and try to write a short piece myself exploring the ranges of the violin and the cello, the two piece I’ve listened can also be found in my listening log.

Symphony No. 1 in C – minor (4th Movement)

  • Composer: Johannes Brahms
  • Year of composition: 1862 – 1877
  • Performed by: Berliner Philharmoniker
  • Listened to: 14.06.2022

The Introduction combines several aspects which where already used within the first movement. In bar 20 the piece seems to get more tense as faster movements and a crescendo working towards a forte are used. A solistic timpani – parts leads to the second part of the movement. Another part standing out more than others is a solostic, heoric sounding horn – melody, which is taken over by a flute slightly afterwards. The horns and flutes seem to fight over the main theme, which creates an interesting contrast between the warm strong sound of the horns and the light airy sound of the flutes. A strong hymn – like theme which is firstly presented by horns and strings establishes itself as the most dominant theme of the movement. The coda seems to consist of small parts from different motifs used over the whole movement. Overall a really enjoyable piece, where I especially liked the mostly dramatic transitioning – phrases between the different parts.

Dido’s Lament

  • Composer: Henry Purcell
  • Year of composition: 1689
  • Performed by: Emmanuelle Haim, Le Concert s’Astree
  • Listened to: 16.06.2022

One of the most outstanding motifs of the piece is probably the descending semitone – movement, which seems to appear quite often in different formats all over the piece. The overall melancholic and dramatic character, mostly caused by sustained dramatic chords, accompanying a single female voice. The leading melody is overall really adaptive and harmonizes well with the other instruments. Nonetheless, the melody still seemed independent enough to really stand out. I hugely enjoyed listening to it.

Looking for the piece, I also accidentally stumbled upon a version from Annie Lennox, and even though I already enjoyed the original version, I found her version incredibly moving.

Project 9: A guitar prelude

The task for this project was to write a piece for solo guitar, as I have a guitar at home, I tried to find out, what was technically possible. Furthermore I tried to stick to the given structure of an A1 – B – A2 form.

Project 10: The String Quartet and String Orchestra

The task for this project was to listen to some string quartets by several composers, (the following entries can also be found in my listening log), and write a piece for string quartet myself afterwards.

String Quartet, op 76, no 2

  • Composer: Jodeph Haydn
  • Year of composition: 1796 – 1797
  • Instruments: 2 Violins, Viola, Cello
  • Performed by: Quatour Mosaiques
  • Listened to: 17.06.2022

Starting with a rather dark, yet rapid theme, the first movement of this quartet often switches between minor and major themes, constantly keeping a fast pace. Noteworthy is also the melody mostly involving fifth – movements. Furthermore I found it interesting, how the composer sometimes added general rests to provoke a tenser character. The following lyrical andante slowly works its way to a lovely sounding melody by the first violin accompanied by pizzicato – chords. The third movement has a darker and quirkier character again, I was surprised often by the occurring pace – changes. The finale sounds stylistically similar to the first by alternating major and minor motifs.

String Quartet No. 9 in A

  • Composer: W.A.Mozart
  • Year of composition: 1785
  • Instruments: 2 Violins, Viola, Cello
  • Performed by: Hagen Quartett
  • Listened to: 17.06.2022

This string quartet had a much brighter character than the last one, even though it similarly started with a more dramatic theme, it quickly transitions to a fast paced bright theme. I had the impression that the mix between different tempos especially for the first movement were well balanced. The second movement involves a slower darker theme with the first violin mostly playing a melancholic leading melody. The third movement was especially interesting to listen to, consisting of several variations based on a short motif, which also modulates to a minor and is lead by the cello at the end. The finale is written in thigh harmonies, often working towards a peak point.

String Quartet No. 2 in G – Major

  • Composer: L.v.Beethoven
  • Year of composition: 1799
  • Instruments: 2 Violins, Viola, Cello
  • Performed by: Emerson String Quartet
  • Listened to: 17.06.2022

The first movement starts with a hopeful theme accompanied by a side – motif in D – major. Written in sonata – form the exposition end rather abruptly with a dramatic peak – point. Throughout the rest of the movement the violins an the cello seem to fight over the melody. The transition between the development and the recapitulation is fluently. The second movement starts with a soft melody in C – major, lead by the violin. The melody is shortly after taken from the cello, which eventually leads to an alteration between those two instruments at the end of the movement. The scherzo creates another technically contrasting yet melodically similar theme to the second movement. The fourth theme was in my opinion the most entertaining one, starting with a simple theme played by the cello, which is always answered by a tutti passage. I consider using this idea of thematic development for my next composition. After these two parts seem to slowly melt together, the piece closes with a brisk fortissimo – motif.

Der Tod und das Mädchen (String Quartet No, 14 in D – minor)

  • Composer: Franz Schubert
  • Year of composition: 1824
  • Instruments: 2 Violins, Viola, Cello
  • Performed by: Jerusalem Quartet
  • Listened to: 17.04.2022

The introduction of this piece is, fitting to its title (translated “Death and the Maiden”), dark themed and incredibly dramatic. Memorable here is also the slightly unsettling and propulsive triplet – motif, which can be heard almost throughout the whole movement. The second movement is traditionally kept in a slower pace, with a sad and dramatic theme continuing the dark mood of the first movement. The introduced theme at the beginning is presented in several variations, all giving a new, sometimes more vivid character to the piece. I especially liked the transition between the arco and pizzicato accompaniment within the first variation. The third movement had a harsher, stormier sound again, where the main melody seems to jump from the higher ranged instruments to the cello. The finale starts rapidly and strong with a theme which I associated with a running horse, due to the dotted note rhythm played at a fast pace. Towards the end, Schubert uses this motif again, moving from a pianissimo to forte-fortissimo, increasing the tension until he finishes the piece with a strong peak – point.

For the piece I was asked to portrait someone I know, initially I wanted to create a code witch uses the letters of the person’s name and transitions them to notes, but I unfortunately didn’t find a combination that worked well with a harmonic structure underneath, but will definitely use it for future compositions.

Reflection: Even though it was suggested, that I start writing the pieces in a short score, I found it easier to create harmonic lines with the finished layout at the score. Nonetheless, I took several attempts on the short score, but was never really pleased with the harmonic outlines. Nonetheless, I will still keep this option of pre- working on a piece in mind for future compositions.

Research Point

I was asked to create some further Listening Log entries of the following pieces:

Serenade in C – major

  • Composer: Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky
  • Year of composition: 1880
  • Instruments: strings
  • Performed by: Vienna Chamber Orchestra
  • Listened to: 21.06.2022

Even tough I’m personally not always too keen on Tchaikovsky’s works, I really enjoyed listening to this piece. He managed to set a vast amount of energy and life in just a small amount of instruments, which made the piece really enjoyable. The first movement reminds of a piece from the classical era, even though, through a well considered placement of dynamical changes and rests, the instruments almost seemed to breathe. The second waltz is a slowly forward – marching waltz. Soft harmonic structures are put against a high, hopeful melody. For the third movement, which seems to be the most dramatic one, the composer seemed to have used a choir – like structure for the beginning. Several voices can be heard at the same time playing a slow, mournful melody, shortly after an alteration of this melody is passed through several instruments. The last movement is opened with a slow introduction, opening up to a colourful sounding melody.

Serenade in e – major, op 22

  • Composer: Antonin Dvorak
  • Year of composition: 1875
  • Instruments: Strings
  • Performed by: Prague Chamber Orchestra
  • Listened to: 21.06.2022

The first movement starts with a simple theme played by the first violin which is shortly after echoed by the cello. Shortly after this short motif is developed further and seems to bloom in warm colours. The second and third movement are dance – movements, mostly creating a melancholic character. Nonetheless, the third movement, seemed cheerier again, with a slightly faster and jumper melody. The scherzo seemed more gripping than the previous parts, involving several joyful melodies. For me, the most moving movement was probably the fourth one, slowly moving with a dramatic melody towards several mournful peak – points at the end. The piece is ended with a fiery sounding finale. Some themes from the previous movements can be heard alternating with the always reappearing introduction theme of this last movement. At the end the beginning of the first movement can be heard again, closing the whole piece.

I found it interesting that this piece didn’t have the usual four, but five movements. I personally felt that all the pieces combined seemed somehow unbalanced,even though the third movement functions as a “centre” of the piece.

Adagio for Strings

  • Composer: Samuel Barber
  • Year of composition: 1938
  • Instruments: Strings
  • Performed by: New York Philharmonic
  • Listened to: 21.06.2022

Even though the overall slow tempo, and dark colour of sound of this piece create an incredibly sad mood. I personally think that this piece stands out from other “dramtatic” sounding examples, maybe caused by the fact, that it seems like it will constantly stay in this exact same mood, without wanting to change to a brighter theme. Interestingly, the theme introduced at the beginning is played in varied forms throughout the whole movement in different constellations without sounding monotonous, this maybe due to the seemingly “breething” melodic lines.

This piece is used in several films due to its highly emotional character.

Funeral Music

  • Composer: Witold Lutoslawski
  • Year of composition: 1958
  • Instruments: Strings
  • Performed by: Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
  • Listened to: 21.06.2022

Instead of parting it in four different movements, the composer decided to use one movement which seemed to have four different sections, which are all parted by a general rest. The time signature changes several times during the piece. Looking over the score I also noticed, that he started with a twelve – tone scale. Due to the overall disharmonic structure, the piece has a rather harsh and unpleasant character. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed some often introduced surprising elements such as a sudden change to pizzicato movement and different kinds of sound colours which always seemed to appear for a few bars.

Funnily enough, I think if I would have heard this piece at the beginning of my studies, I wouldn’t have liked it at all. Nonetheless, after the progress I’ve made throughout the last few years and all the different pieces I’ve listened to, I actually found myself enjoying (more or less) a disharmonic piece for the first time.

Introduction and Allegro for Strings

  • Composer: Edward Elgar
  • Year of composition: 1905
  • Instruments: Strings
  • Performed by: Allegri String Quartet
  • Listened to: 21.06.2022

The piece starts with a hopeful tutti – theme. Moving from a major scale. Even though the piece started brightly, it slowly transitions towards a more melancholic theme, which’s melody is lead by the viola, often echoed by the other instruments. This very expressive section seems to move to a theme similar to the beginning again.

I found the two movements within just over 3 minutes rather compact, yet in terms of listening to a highly varied piece really effective.


In preparation for the next Assignment I did some research about the structure of the serenade.

The serenade is generally often scored for small ensembles and has several movements. One of the most well known serenades is probably Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”. Serenades were also described often as “Evening Music”, and were originally meant to be played outside for special occasions. They were written for voices as well as small sets of instruments. 1,2

Generally the form of the serenade can be described as a light, small and sonata or symphony, yet more freed from the harmonical rules of these two forms. As mentioned above, mostly, the serenades consisted of four movements, having the first and last one in a march – like character, whilst the two in the centre were often written as menuetts. 3

Within the 20th century the serenade made a further development: The ensemble increased and thus the form slowly moved into concert halls. Some serenades (e.g. Vaughan William’s Serenade to Music) were written as just one long movement. From there on serenades seemed to be composed more and more individually, not following a defined structure. 4

In addition to this short research I also listened to some more suggested serenades, which can be found in my listening log.

1 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Serenade. In: Oxford-
Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.773.

2 Dommer, A. Serenata, Serenade.[online]. Muiklexikon: Was bedeutet Serenade. Available at: https://musikwissenschaften.de/lexikon/s/serenade/ [Accessed: 22.06.2022]

3 Classic Cat [online]. Serenade: Description.Available at: https://www.classiccat.net/genres/serenade.info.php [Accessed: 22.06.2022]

4 Meyer, K. (2017). Musik zur Abendunterhaltung im Freien. [online]. BR Klassik. [Available at: https://www.br-klassik.de/themen/klassik-entdecken/alte-musik/stichwort-serenade-100.html%5D. Accessed: 22.06.2022]