Listening to Britten – Two Lullabies

(c) Ben Hogwood

Two Lullabies for two pianos (10 – 16 March 1936, Britten aged 22)

1 Lullaby
2 Lullaby for a retired colonel

Dedication not known
Duration 5’30”

Background and Critical Reception

Another publication of Britten’s not to appear during his lifetime. The Two Lullabies were composed for his BBC audition as a piano duo with Adolph Hallis on 19 March 1936, though only the Lullaby for a retired colonel was played. The pair had to wait until 22 June 1988 for their resurrection, played by Peter Frankl and Tamás Vásáry in Aldeburgh.

This second piece is Britten being mischievous. If anything it is an ‘anti-lullaby’ designed to keep the listener awake for another three minutes, annoying the colonel with simultaneous renditions of military tunes – identified by John Bridcut as The British Grenadiers, Men of Harlech, the Marseillaise and the Last Post. Perhaps it was even a fantasy of Britten’s to administer the same punishment to an existing colonel?!


The first lullaby is an attractive, lilting Berceuse, gently oscillating in a way that recalls Satie or Ravel, then becoming lightly playful before it subsides to sleep.

The second, the ‘anti-lullaby’, is like the non-sleeper that tosses and turns restlessly, too much going on in their head, before putting the light on in a fit of pique. Then not only do they stay awake but anyone within earshot does too! However they just about get away with it, and the restlessness peters out.

Recordings used

Stephen Hough and Ronan O’Hora (pianos) (Virgin Classics)

The only recording in existence, it would seem – and very well played too, especially the more fractious second piece.

No links available

Also written in 1936: Rubbra – Symphony no.1, Op.44

Next up: Peace of Britain

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