Britten wrote the Phantasy Quartet when he was still a student in London studying at the Royal College of Music. Although Britten is now most widely known for his vocal compositions, this was his first work to gain him international recognition. It was one of his earliest pieces, and that it was selected to be performed at the prestigious International Society of Contemporary Music Festival was a mark of great honour.
Although at the time many composers were rejecting any kind of tonality, Britten continued to work using the modal harmonic language favoured by Vaughn Williams and Holst.
The Phantasy Quartet is a one movement work based loosely on the framework of a sonata. Elements of the oboe’s opening melody appear throughout the piece, returning with clarity in the final section.