Listening to Britten – The Joy of Grief

Britten in South Lodge, 1925 – image courtesy of

The Joy of Grief – song for voice and piano (1926, Britten aged 13)

Dedication not known
Text Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Language English
Duration 1’10”

Background and Critical Reception

Written a day after Prithee, The Joy of Grief is another of the early group of songs primed for music making with Britten’s mother, it would seem, and it slips under the radar where critical comment is concerned.


The first time we’ve heard a soprano in this listening, though it should be noted none of the songs so far have specified that a male or female voice should sing them. Almost half of this brief song is a piano postlude, an elegant introduction that again suggests the spirit of Schumann. Tennyson’s text contains the oft-used line, ’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’. The young Britten continues to pick some weighty lines to ponder!

Recordings used
Katherine Broderick (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Onyx)

Martineau’s introduction is poised and clearly voiced, and it is easy to imagine Britten playing like this. Broderick’s tone is fulsome but nicely restrained here, as if in thought.


The Joy of Grief

Also written in 1926: Falla – Harpsichord Concerto

Next up: Virtue in Deeds not Words

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