Listening to Britten – The Moth

(c) Brian Hogwood

The Moth – song for bass and piano (19-20 January 1931, Britten aged 17)

Dedication not known
Text Walter de la Mare
Language English

Background and Critical Reception

John Bridcut is the author to make the most prominent reference to The Moth, describing it as a song where ‘Britten experiments with atonality, as he was with instrumental pieces at the time’. ‘The pianist’s hands are in different keys’, he continues, ‘often in conflicting rhythms, as they flit lightly and softly round the upper keyboard in wickedly fast arpeggios, evoking the moth’s wings as it is drawn to its doom in the flame’. This open experimentation indicates that Britten’s vocal and instrumental styles are beginning to reconcile, as the songs have previously been the base for Britten’s most tonal writing.

Lennox Berkeley set the same song for voice and guitar, appearing as the fourth of five Songs of the Half-Light, Op.65, in response to a commission from Sir Peter Pears.


To be continued – once there is a performance or recording available! In the meantime this post is here as a placeholder.

Recordings used
No known recordings currently available


Also written in 1931: Dyson – The Canterbury Pilgrims

Next up: Christ’s Nativity

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