Britten, Four Sea Interludes


I was waiting to go on with this work, but I’ve been stopped by some problems with wind tuning and playback templates.

I’ll however release an early draft of Dawn, because it shows a series of fine-tuning to tempi and durations that may be of interest to those composing with Dorico (and my earn me some useful hint…).

The score is full of grace notes, that Dorico tries to interpret as it likes, and you have to redraw in Play mode as it should sound. A lot has still to be done to lengthen the releases and let them fade to niente.

The sound set is the old VSL VI with MIR.

Britten - Four Sea Interludes - Dawn (WIP)


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That’s quite beautiful!

Thank you Dan! The piece is fantastic, so I hope not to damage it too much, in the end.


I dont know this piece well, and dont have a score; but it sounds pretty realistic and holds my attention, which is the most important thing, though perhaps the high violins are too well in tune to be mistaken for reality! :grin:


Thank you for listening, David! As you know, most of the discussions of the latest days in this forum have related to detuning virtual instruments. So, how can I not detune them at last? :slight_smile:

(Violins will probably remain mostly in tune; but winds will not…)


Lovely! If you are willing to share the Dorico file, it would be terrific to see it, but no worries if you want to hold onto it.

Stephen, thank you for asking. The project is still a work in progress. I am planning to do a tutorial and/or an article on the techniques I use with Dorico, but times are being a bit longer than I hoped.


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Thank you for sharing this. Britten is a major obsession of mine – has been for 50 years – so this is a pleasure to hear. I’ve listened once, but will pull out my full score of the whole opera tomorrow and listen again.

(My first self-tutorials in mastering Dorico involved inputting movements of Britten, just for my private study, including more refined study of the works themselves. I’ve done practically all of his second string quartet, for instance.)

Just listened to it on headphones - fantastic!

Nice work so far…Will look forward to the final version. Good dynamic range…Which VSL strings are you using or is it a blend and which MIR hall? More important than string tuning is varying the note attacks imho…I’ve never heard a recording of one of the great orchestras and thought that some of the tuning was out. Part of the secret of realistic strings playback is varying the note attacks which you can do via CC’s or using Dorico Playback Techniques. The VSL VIPro player already has some humanize tuning variations which seem to work well enough…I use it at about 15%, otherwise things can start sounding out with higher percentages. Getting string attacks to sound realistic can take a lot of fiddling around though.

“a lot of fiddling” w/ string attacks. I think we need a pun alert somewhere in the Forum interface. :laughing:

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Grainger (appropriate name, speaking of Britten and fiddles!), thank you for listening!

I’m using the Orchestral Strings, helped by some of the Dimension Strings. The MIR room is the Teldex. It’s a deep hall, so the distance between violins and flutes creates a strong sense of space. And I keep violins on the opposite sides of the stage (is it correct with Britten?)

A fine work on attack and release time is still completely missing (and this is sadly very apparent on the brass). My goal is to try to do them with add-on techniques in Dorico, instead of the usual fine adjustment in the CC lane. However, it’s still to be seen if the limited values I can recall via techniques will be enough to sound real.

As for the Humanize feature of VIPro, I keep it at a low settings, since Dimension Strings already do their magic of realistically detune individual strings.


Personally, as a conductor, I think it is always appropriate to have
violins left and right. One might argue that the music of Stravinsky and
others doesnt benefit from the interchange but, in my opinion, having
cellos in the middle facing forwards gives great sonic advantages to
performances of all music. It works really well in /The Young Person’s
Guide/. But during Britten’s lifetime, only Sir Adrian Boult stuck to
this layout. Britten as a conductor massed the violins on the left.


Thanks for the information. I thought this was true, because of bits of film I’ve seen and because in some of his works he asks for a temporary re-sectioning of the violins into I, II, and III equally, which works much better if they’re all massed together. But the subject of violin placements throughout history is always fascinating to me. I too favor them left & right for almost all music (at least until we get to recent composers who imagined the other arrangement).

Sometimes the reason or putting the second violins at L/2 is simply because their parts are not very interesting!


I see these things as strongly related: if both violin sections are blended together, Vni II will be ancillary to Vni I; if they are separated, and both are covering the front of the stage in the most noticeable positions, they will have to say something different.


I put both violin sections L for this exact reason. In almost all the music I use or write, the seconds are always a lesser part, often doubling at the octave or 6th/3rd.

That is indeed true of a lot of music. In some orchestral music, there is antiphonal writing between Vln I and II. (The last movement of Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony is the example everyone mentions, and rightly so.) In most instances of call-and-response within an orchestra, the contrasting timbres of the instruments allows us to hear the effect; but with two sections of violins, opposed placement is the only way to make it audible.

Yes, this example is always given, even though it is untypical of Tchaikovsky. A better one is the finale of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, right before Fig 81 – and since we are talking about Britten, Variation E in the YPG. And Mahler said that he liked the effect of violins in unison, when it came from both sides. Mahler IX has many important passages that presuppose violins on opposite sides – and Wagner designed his Bayreuth pit with first violins on the right and seconds on the left. a layout that is followed to this day.

Yes, that sort of thing wasn’t a habit of Tchaikovsky’s, but that one example is curious enough to stand out. (I’d love to hear it from an orchestra that was at home with the unabashed portamento of the period, but that’s unlikely ever to happen.) Your YPG example is to the point – I know exactly which bit you’re talking about. And I was going to mention the Bayreuth pit myself (I’ve attended the festival): I’m told it drives first-time conductors nuts until they get used to it!

There have been articles on the subject of violin seating, of course. One, I believe, was in the sadly short-lived Opus magazine. It provided a discography of recordings that used “old” seating.