Listening to Britten – Night covers up the rigid land


(c) Ben Hogwood

Night covers up the rigid land – song for high voice and piano (27 October 1937, Britten aged 23)

Dedication not known
Text W.H. Auden
Language English
Duration 2’30”

Audio clip (Ian Bostridge (tenor) and Graham Johnson (piano), with thanks to Hyperion

Background and Critical Reception

Another of the short songs originally intended for a second volume of On This Island, written just a day after To lie flat on the back…. Like that song, the first performance was a long time coming, this time with soprano Patricia Rozario and pianist Graham Johnson at the Wigmore Hall on Britten’s birthday, 1985.

It is remarkable to think that Britten used the only manuscript of this song as a jacket holder for the songs used for ‘On This Island’, where it was identified as being the composer’s handwriting.

Thoughts

This is a simply written song, but as with much Britten simple is devastatingly effective, and all the yearning of Auden’s text comes to the fore. Philip Reed’s description in his notes for Ian Bostridge’s recording has it just right – ‘a beautiful nocturne’

Recordings used
Ian Bostridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Hyperion)
James Geer (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Onyx)
Neil Mackie (tenor), Roger Vignoles (piano) (EMI Classics)
Philip Langridge (tenor), Steuart Bedford (piano) (Naxos)

This song and To lie flat on the back are often performed in the same recital – and often rub shoulders on disc too. Ian Bostridge sings it beautifully, with tolling chords from Graham Johnson. Their Hyperion disc The Red Cockatoo and other songs comes very highly recommended. The other versions are extremely sound also, reminding us that Britten has been well served of late by singers and pianists alike!

Spotify

Again the songs were not easy to find on Spotify, but Langridge and Bedford are here, part of a very fine Naxos collection of Auden settings by both Britten and Lennox Berkeley. James Geer and Malcolm Martineau are here, the first track of the first volume of Martineau’s valuable survey of Britten songs for Onyx.

Also written in 1937: Orff – Carmina Burana

Next up: Mont Juic Suite, Op.12

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