Listening to Britten – A Dirge

Net Drying in Lowestoft – image courtesy of the Malcolm R. White website

A Dirge – song for voice and piano (c1926, Britten aged 12)

Dedication not known
Text Percy Bysshe Shelley
Language English
Duration 1’15”

Background and Critical Reception

Philip Reed’s booklet note for the Onyx release describes this and other songs from 1926 as songs that ‘reveal Britten’s growing sophistication as a song composer, in particular his skill at reaching to the heart of a poem’s meaning and conveying that in musically satisfying structures’.


Dirge shares with Beware! the key of F minor, and is a brief and largely introverted song. There is a briefly intense passage but in the main this appears to be all about conveying Shelley’s ‘grief too sad for song’. A deep subject indeed for a boy of 12 – and once again, to me at least, tapping in to the spirit of Schubert.

Recordings used
James Geer (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Onyx)

Track 3 on the album

Also written in 1926: Janáček – The Makropulos Affair

Next up: Of A’ The Aires The Wind Can Blow

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