Listening to Britten – Purcell: The Knotting Song, Z371

Prelude (Act I, Scene 1) – Gloriana by Jane Mackay, used with thanks to the artist

The Knotting Song, Z371 – Purcell realization for high or medium voice and piano (June – 19 November 1939, Britten aged 26)

Dedication not known
Text Sir Charles Sedley
Language English
Duration 2′

Audio clips (with thanks to Hyperion)

The original [Susan Gritton (soprano), The King’s Consort / Robert King]

The realization [James Bowman (countertenor), Graham Johnson (piano)]

Background and Critical Reception

The first of many Purcell realizations for voice and piano. These were designed for Britten and Peter Pears to perform in recital, typically near the beginning of the program. The objective here was to heighten awareness of Purcell, who at the end of the 1930s was a surprisingly peripheral figure.

An introduction to Britten’s realizations of Purcell can be found on the blog here


It is going to take a while to get used to this side of Britten’s output! That is not a bad thing of course, but it comes as something of a shock to hear the clean lines of The Knotting Song after the heady, ecstatic Les illuminations.

Britten’s realization in the piano part is very subtle, restricted mostly to the statements between verses, where he flattens some of the harmonies to make them sound more exotic. The repetitions of ‘and knotted’ would be maddening if the song were longer but here they work relatively well.

Recordings used

James Bowman (countertenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Hyperion)
Neil Mackie (tenor), Roger Vignoles (piano) (EMI)

This is like listening to two different works. Bowman and Johnson are relatively swift and in D major, with Johnson enjoying the chromatic sleights between verses. Mackie and Vignoles, on the other hand, are slow and in F major, and relatively restrained. This is perhaps an indication of the freedom of approach in these realizations.


There is only one disc of the complete Purcell realizations, unfortunately not available on Spotify.

Also written in 1939: Hartmann – Concerto funebre for violin and string orchestra

Next up: Hark the ech’ing air

This entry was posted in Listening to Britten, Purcell realizations, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Listening to Britten – Purcell: The Knotting Song, Z371

  1. Pingback: Britten and earworms | Good Morning Britten

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