Listening to Britten – Two Two-Part Songs

(c) Ben Hogwood

Two Two-Part Songs for boys’ or women’s voices and piano (1 June – 18 July 1932, revised 5 – 28 June 1933, Britten aged 19)

1 I Lov’d a Lass (George Wither)
2 Lift Boy (Robert Graves)

Dedication not known
Text as above
Language English
Duration 6’30”

Background and Critical Reception

A song each about a girl and a boy, these two were published under the curious title Two Antithetical Part Songs, which Humphrey Carpenter interprets as relating to their subject matter and differing musical styles.

The Wither setting he describes as ‘wistful’, the Graves ‘an evocation of boyish carelessness’ – which John Bridcut picks up as ‘fifth form humour’. He refers to Britten’s musical evocation of a lift plunging down the shaft at the end of Lift Bo, achieved by drops of a seventh in the melody.

Britten was hoping the two songs would jog Oxford University Press out of their prevarications, for the publishers were sitting on copies of the Sinfonietta and Phantasy Quartet but had not yet committed them to print.


These two songs suffer from their juxtaposition to A boy was born in the course of this listening project, for there is a very definite sense of anti climax. That isn’t to say they are not accomplished, though, for the effect of the more traditional setting, I lov’d a lass, is an eerie one with the cooing at the end.

Lift Boy is jaunty, the piano part an essential part of the humour as it pokes and prods the chorus, but overall I found these songs easier to admire than to love.

Recordings used
Elizabethan Singers / Louis Halsey, Wilfrid Parry (piano) (Eloquence)

The Elizabethan Singers are florid in their vibrato, which lends intensity to the first song in particular.

The Elizabethan Singers’ version is on the album here, occupying tracks 6 and 7.

Also written in 1933: Stravinsky – Perséphone

Next up: Simple Symphony, Op.4

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

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