Lennox Berkeley write his Five Short Pieces, Op 4 in 1936. In common with Berkeley’s other works for solo piano their popularity and place in the repertoire have never been in doubt.
Berkeley’s first published piano work, Etude, Berceuse, Capriccio, Op 2, pre-dates Five Short Pieces by a year, but it was with the latter set that Berkeley laid the foundations of his personal style. Whereas the earlier pieces bear the strong, rhythmically vigorous imprint of Stravinsky, the qualities that come to the fore in the Five Short Pieces show a tendency towards the French. The emphasis on melody, the lucid textures and a conciseness of expression indicate both Berkeley’s French origins and the influence of the music of Les Six and Faure, much of which Berkeley first encountered whilst under the guidance of Nadia Boulanger in the early 1930s.
Five Short Pieces are full of wit, vitality and charm. As has come to be expected over the years, however, the compositional skill is much more subtle than Berkeley would have us believe. The contrapuntal facility hinted at in the first piece and the constant changing of metre in the last are never allowed to disturb the melodic interest but serve rather to enhance the melodic ideas. Of particular note is the fourth of the set, a descendant of the Faure Nocturne. The intimacy and understatement mixed with the spicy harmony bear the true Berkeley hallmark.