Listening to Britten – Witches Song

Gresham’s School, Holt

Witches Song – song for voice and piano (21 February 1929, Britten aged 15)

Dedication not known
Text Ben Jonson
Language English
Duration 0’45”

Background and Critical Reception

Another song from Gresham’s, Holt, completed just two days after Lilian. The words of Witches Song come over as a bit of nonsense, although Ben Jonson’s verse of 1609 is understandably not quite in keeping with today’s English.


A completely different sound world to anything we’ve heard up to this point, Witches Song is appropriately grotesque. It won’t be for everyone, the sound of a treble and counter tenor in duet, but it certainly makes for an arresting sound, especially when the gruff piano accompaniment – a kind of twisted interpretation of a Schubert song – comes in to play. And then, almost as soon as it starts, the song is over – and ‘the Stars are fled, but all the Sky is burning’.

Recordings used
James Bowman (counter tenor), Andrew Plant (piano) (Signum Classics)

There is a strong character in this recording, and it proves a real eyebrow-raiser if you come to it cold!

A preview of Witches Song can be found on the Signum Classics website.

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

Next up: The Owl

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

2 Responses to Listening to Britten – Witches Song

  1. The recording isn’t a duet: it’s solo countertenor (James Bowman) and piano.

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