Listening to Britten – May

(c) Ben Hogwood

May for children’s voices (unison) and piano (28 September 1934, Britten aged 19)

Dedication not known
Text Anon
Language English
Duration 1’30”

Background and Critical Reception

Also known as Now is the month of Maying, this short song for children’s voices in unison shows that Britten was becoming increasingly at home adopting the role of a composer for the community.

If you believe Wikipedia on these matters, you might think the words of the poem have sexual connotations rather than simply spring dancing, but it doesn’t seem that Britten saw it that way.

May is a trifle, glossed over by all the biographers save for John Bridcut, who only really comments on the fact Britten designated it a ‘part song for boys’, when in fact it is sung in unison throughout.


A bright, open air song, with spacious piano setting the scene in D major before the children’s voices burst in, full of the joys of late spring, and lots of ‘fa-la-la’-ing.

Britten then cleverly slows down for the third verse to depict the text ‘why sit we musing’, before the music picks up once again. The three verses, and their crisp piano punctuation, are gone in the blink of an eye.

Recordings used
New London Children’s Choir / Ronald Corp, Alexander Wells (piano) (Naxos)

Nice, reverberant sound that complements the disciplined singing.

May can be heard here, as part of the New London Children’s Choir album Pigs Could Fly, an imaginatively chosen selection of 20th century songs for children’s choir.

Also written in 1934: Ibert – Flute Concerto

Next up: Holiday Diary, Op.5

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

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