Despite being an excellent pianist himself, Britten wrote very few solo piano works in his maturity (though there are dozens of sonatas and suites from his childhood years). Holiday Diary was composed in 1934 and evokes the experience of an English seaside holiday: funfairs, still nights, and bracing dips into the sea. Britten had recently left the Royal College of Music and was living in the family home in Lowestoft: the movements ‘Early morning bathe’ and the central section of ‘Sailing’ vividly depict the boisterousness of the North Sea.
The composer’s virtuosity is evident in at least the first three movements, particularly ‘Funfair’, as Simon Callaghan describes in this week’s film. The final movement, while not technically as challenging, has a remarkable meditative quality with its slow-moving melody over low ‘chimes’ in the left hand. Holiday Diary has such an exuberant spirit of inventiveness, it seems a pity Britten didn’t compose more for solo piano.