Listening to Britten – Chamber Music V

(c) Ben Hogwood

Chamber Music V – song for soprano (or tenor) and piano (28 July – 3 August 1930, Britten aged 16)

Dedication Paul Azor-Smith (a school friend at Gresham’s)
Text James Joyce
Language English
Duration 1’20”

Background and Critical Reception

This excerpt from James Joyce’s Chamber Music was also set by Britten’s teacher Frank Bridge in 1925 under the title Goldenhair. The dedicatee for this song, Paul Azor-Smith, shared a study with Britten at Gresham’s – so it is clear that Britten was still in a sense looking back fondly on his time at the school. John Bridcut rounds it up as part of an ‘engaging group of songs from his apprentice years’, and mentions Azor-Smith briefly in his book Britten’s Children, and in the booklet notes for Allan Clayton’s version Philip Reed describes the song as ‘sophisticated’.


A wistful song that leaves much in reserve, Britten’s setting of Chamber Music V is distracted and dreamy, wishing it was somewhere else. He captures vividly the verse, “My book was closed, I read no more, Watching the fire dance on the floor”, where the intensity rises, before the singer falls back into his reverie.

Recordings used
Allan Clayton (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Onyx)

Clayton gets to the essence of Britten’s distraction perfectly, accompanied at a respectful distance by Martineau.

Click here for the Allan Clayton recording, or to compare with a preview of the Frank Bridge setting, sung by Janice Watson, which can be found on the Hyperion website

Also written in 1930: Ravel – Piano Concerto for the left hand

Next up: Movement for wind sextet

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

One Response to Listening to Britten – Chamber Music V

  1. Pingback: Hallelujah - Choir of King's College, Cambridge live performance of Handel's Messiah - Green Eating And LivingGreen Eating And Living

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