Listening to Britten – Lilian

Gresham’s School, Holt

Lilian – song for voice and piano (15-19 February 1929, Britten aged 15)

Dedication not known
Text Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Language English
Duration 3′

Background and Critical Reception

Written while Britten was in his first year at Gresham’s, Holt, and still under the concentrated teachings of Bridge, this Tennyson setting sat unpublished until relatively recently. Of the few writers to mention the song, Paul Kildea is particularly critical, declaring that Lilian ‘strives for harmonic and rhetorical purpose’ but is ultimately ‘forced and clumsy’, a ‘gilded, giddy waltz’. He does, however, note this as one of many poems on the ‘inconstancy of women’ that Britten was to set.


I think Kildea is pretty harsh here. While nowhere near the finished article, there is a growing assurance in Britten’s song settings, though this more substantial number (double the length of most of the songs heard so far) bears again the influence of his teacher. It selects a key (E major) that Bridge often used, and uses yearning harmonies that are more typical of his early style, but the influence of Debussy is now entirely absent. A coincidence perhaps, but the conviction of the setting, and its portrayal of unrequited passion, is firm.

Recordings used
Philip Smith (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Onyx)

Martineau phrases his accompaniment beautifully, and Philip Smith sings articulately, capturing the frustration of Tennyson’s verse.


Also written in 1929: Vaughan Williams – Sir John in Love

Next up: Witches Song

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

2 Responses to Listening to Britten – Lilian

  1. Pingback: Listening to Britten – Witches Song | Good Morning Britten

  2. Pingback: Listening to Britten – Etude for solo viola | Good Morning Britten

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