Folksong arrangements

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

Performance date: 04/07/2012

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1941 - 1961

Duration: 00:11:50

Recording Engineer: Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: S-solo, pf

Instrumentation Category:Duo

Artists: Ruby Hughes - [mezzo-soprano]
Julius Drake - [piano]

The outbreak of the Second World War found Britten and
Peter Pears in the USA with
no plans to return to England.
The American musical world was lionising him and he had a number of commissions
Les Illuminations, Sinfonia da Requiem,
Paul Bunyan
and several other works. Early in 1941 Britten saw an article
by  E.M.Forster on George Crabbe and his
poem, Peter Grimes. The article began
with the words –  To talk about Crabbe is to talk about England
and it went on to describe the Suffolk
countryside that Britten knew so well. Then in the following autumn Britten
found himself with a total compositional block and, at that point, reached the
decision to return to his homeland. It was during this depressing time of
waiting – first for an exit visa, later for a ship – that Britten first turned
to arranging folksongs, a relatively straightforward task that provided useful
repertoire for his recitals with Peter Pears and as a way of breaking through
his creative block. Four of his earliest arrangements including Oliver Cromwell were performed in
November 1941.

It was no accident that he chose folksongs of British
origin. He had worked with French texts for Les
, with Italian texts for the Michelangelo Sonnets and finally on an American theme with Paul Bunyan. Now by turning to
quintessentially English music he was finally preparing to return home and the
setting of works like Serenade, Peter
and The Holy Sonnets of John
Later he made arrangements of eight French folksongs for Sophie Wyss
and five more volumes of folksongs followed over the years, including a volume
based on Moore’s
Irish Melodies from which The last rose
of summer is taken.

Britten and Pears used them to round off a recital in
a light, if not always light-hearted, manner and of course they made excellent
encores. They should not be under-estimated, the piano parts in particular are
a delight. The closing lines of the children’s song Oliver Cromwell make a particularly apt conclusion to a recital:

If you want any more you can sing it yourself

Hee haw sing it youself.