Listening to Britten – Beware!

Britten playing piano at home, 1921
Britten playing piano at home, 1921 – image courtesy of

Beware! – song for voice and piano (November 1922, Britten aged 8)

Dedication not known
Text Henry W Longfellow
Language English
Duration 1’30”

Background and Critical Reception

In his illuminating chapter ‘Juvenilia’, part of The Cambridge Companion To Benjamin Britten, Christopher Mark highlights Beware! as being a possible offshoot of lieder singing in the Britten household, which Britten used to accompany.


The first piece! Given this is the work of an eight year-old, this is perhaps not surprisingly a relatively simple song in F minor – but there is a subtle play on the harmonies when Britten veers towards the major and back to the minor, introducing a sudden uncertainty in the middle of the song in a manner that Schubert might have achieved. Even at this very early stage of Britten’s life there seems to be a sense of foreboding in the background, despite the relatively flowing texture. Is that wishful thinking? He seems almost wary of Longfellow’s text. ‘She can both false and friendly be, Beware!’

Recordings used
Neil Mackie (tenor), Roger Vignoles (piano) (EMI)
Philip Smith (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Onyx)

Spotify – track 33 on the album (next 2 tracks are incorrectly labelled!)

Also written in 1922: Walton – Façade

Next up: O That I’d Ne’er Been Married

This entry was posted in English, Listening to Britten, Songs and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Listening to Britten – Beware!

  1. Pingback: Britten and earworms | Good Morning Britten

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