The Simple Symphony was written in Lowestoft, when Britten was twenty and had completed his final term at the Royal College of Music. Having spent the 1933 Christmas holiday sorting through pieces written in his childhood and teenage years, he combined eight themes from those into the finished work.
It is written for a small string orchestra and Britten’s intention was that it might be performed by schools; its first performance, with Britten conducting, was by an amateur orchestra in Norwich in 1934.
Although Britten spoke of the work when in progress as an attempt to make some money by cashing in on the lucrative schools market, it was clearly also a project with emotional resonance for him. It is dedicated to his viola teacher Audrey Alston, who was one of his two major musical mentors (and who introduced him to the other, his composition teacher Frank Bridge) and, in effect, comprises a summary of where he had got to at this point as a composer and a thank-you to those who had helped him on the way there.