Listening to Britten – O that I had ne’er been married

View from Britten’s house at 22 Kirkley Cliff Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk (Britten’s house), 1922 – image courtesy of

O that I had ne’er been married – song for voice and piano (November 1922, Britten aged 8) (revised 1968)

Dedication not known
Text Robert Burns
Language English
Duration 1’30”

Background and Critical Reception

A second song from 1922. Like Beware!, this was a song Britten returned to throughout his life. It is not as distinctive, perhaps bearing out Christopher Mark’s observation that ‘Britten’s initial musical environment was all too representative of the conservativeness and provinciality of English music-making’.


A reflective song, with spread piano chords, ever so slightly weary and woebegone in its expression. It falls nicely in the tenor range, Britten displacing the melody to a top ‘G’, but then it subsides to a thoughtful, introverted conclusion.

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

Two good versions. In his accompaniment, Vignoles uses less pedal, which aids definition, and his balance with Mackie is a bit better recorded by EMI, despite its age. That said, Smith’s accent is nicely pronounced.

Track 33 on the album (confusingly titled ‘Beware!’)

Also written in 1922: Stravinsky – Mavra

Next up: 5 Waltzes for piano

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

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