Canticle III – Still Falls the Rain Op.55

Composer: Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
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Composer: Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)

Performance date: 27/06/2022

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1952

Duration: 00:12:36

Recording Engineer: Simon Cullen, Ergodos

Instrumentation: T-solo, pf, hn

Instrumentation Category:Vocal Ensemble

Artists: Nicholas Mulroy - [Tenor]
Alec Frank-Gemmill - [Horn]
Julius Drake - [piano]

Benjamin Britten [1913-1976]

Canticle I – My Beloved is Mine Op.40 [1947]

Canticle III – Still Falls the Rain Op.55 [1952]

Britten composed his five Canticles over a period of almost thirty years, so they were written as individual works rather than as a specific cycle. Nonetheless they share their religious inspiration, English texts, and a strong spiritual quality. Also they were all, except for the last one, written for Britten’s recital partnership with the tenor Peter Pears, his life-long partner. 

My Beloved is Mine is the only Canticle to originate in the biblical Book of Canticles, The Song of Solomon, and it takes the form of a miniature cantata. It is a setting of A Divine Rapture by the seventeenth century poet Francis Quarles, a rhapsody of spiritual exaltation expressed in words of ardent physical love built around the line from The Song of Solomon – My beloved is mine and I am his. Britten’s setting is in three sections of paired stanzas, each stanza closing with a paraphrase of King Solomon’s refrain. Over an exquisite piano accompaniment, the bank-divided brooks of the opening verse represent the separated spirits who, when united, release an ecstatic flow of vocal melismas throughout the second stanza. The third verse is a dramatic recitative declaiming the poverty of riches and power compared to his beloved, leading directly into a playful three-part invention. The last two stanzas create a rapturous conclusion with music of inspired beauty.

Still Falls the Rain is taken from Edith Sitwell’s The Canticle of the Rose, whose dark, war-laden text is an allegory of Christ’s passion. This time, in place of the extra singer, an extra instrument, the horn, is introduced, heard immediately to great effect in the introduction. It was written immediately after another dark work, The Turn of the Screw, but it was also a memorial tribute to the young Australian pianist, Noel Mewton-Wood, who had committed suicide two years earlier. He had premiered Britten’s Piano Concerto and had performed at the Aldeburgh Festival and after his death Britten had voiced his horror at the terrifyingly small gap between madness and non-madness. He takes the deeply moving text and builds a series of refrain-like variations on a twelve-note theme and at the climax, where Sitwell quotes from the end of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, he heightens the drama by a sudden and striking use of sprechgesang.

Francis Humphrys