Listening to Britten – Diaphenia


The Chapel, Gresham’s School, Holt

Diaphenia – song for tenor and piano (4-8 September 1929, Britten aged 15)

Dedication Mrs R.V. Britten (Britten’s mother)
Text Henry Constable, sometimes attributed to Henry Chettle
Language English
Duration 2’00”

Background and Critical Reception

Another song from Britten’s time at Gresham’s. Very little is recorded about Diaphenia, possibly because the Britten Thematic Catalogue doesn’t record its first performance until 2008. Pianist Andrew Plant writes in his booklet note for the only available CD version that the full title is Damelus’ Song to his Diaphenia, and his observation that it is ‘a more conventional essay’ appears spot on.

Thoughts

As Plant also notes, this is a delicate song – easily overlooked, but with a subtle depth to its emotion. There is a purity about the setting when sung by a treble, and the words ‘fair, sweet, how I do love thee!’ take on a purity with the soft elegance of the piano part, where there are no harmonic surprises, unlike The Birds. Again it is very brief, but provides a gentle moment of repose.

Recordings used
Andrew Swait (treble), Andrew Plant (piano) (Signum Classics)

Nicely and sensitively done, with a beautifully controlled rise to the high point from Swait.

Preview
A preview of Diaphenia can be found on the Signum Records website.

Also written in 1929: Cole Porter – Wake Up And Dream

Next up: Untitled fragment for strings

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