Listening to Britten – Epitaph: The Clerk

Lowestoft Lowlight – image courtesy of the Malcolm R. White website

Epitaph: The Clerk – song for voice and piano (1926, Britten aged 12) (revised summer 1968)

Dedication not known
Text Herbert Asquith
Language English
Duration 1’00”

Background and Critical Reception

Britten sets the first verse only of Herbert Asquith’s poem, the last of a group of three that tend to be recorded together – Beware! and O that I had ne’er been married being the other two. I could find no documentation on this song, which implies it is not regarded as greatly significant.


The Epitaph begins rather sternly, with bold spread chords from the piano leading straight to a proud declamation from the baritone, at which the piano accompaniment leans on the creeping, chromatic left hand, possibly in reference to the text that has the clerk ‘toiling at his ledgers in a city grey’.

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

Mackie and Vignoles are quicker and more urgent, a full 20 seconds so, and Vignoles brings out the piano’s right hand octaves really well. This is less easy to hear on the Onyx version, where Martineau’s piano sounds rather distant, as if in another room.

Track 35 on the album (confusingly titled ‘Beware!’)

Also written in 1926: Shostakovich – Symphony no.1

Next up: Sonata for cello and piano

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s