Listening to Britten – Virtue in Deeds Not Words

Oulton Broad Pleasure Steamer – image courtesy of the Malcolm R. White website

Virtue in Deeds Not Words – song for voice and piano (1926, Britten aged 13)

Dedication not known
Text Philip James Bailey
Language English
Duration 1’10”

Background and Critical Reception

‘We live in deeds not years, in thoughts not breaths’, begins Bailey’s verse – but this song, though a thoughtful setting, is lighter in tone than its immediate contemporaries. According to the Britten Thematic Catalogue Virture in Deeds Not Words was written the very same day, 4 December 1926, as The Joy of Grief.


Again this is a setting rooted in F major, which leads me to speculate this could have been another song for Britten’s mother to sing. It explores a greater range, and starts with the singer this time, who sings a strong melody. Britten gives Bailey’s verse a more expansive treatment compared to the other songs examined recently.

Recordings used
Caryl Hughes (mezzo-soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Onyx) (world premiere recording)

In this first ever recording, Caryl Hughes’ voice has a rounded tone and quite pronounced vibrato, though the piano sounds a little distant here.


Virtue in Deeds Not Words

Also written in 1926: Kodály – Háry János

Next up: Lucy

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

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