Listening to Britten – The Salley Gardens

Grove Scene by John Crome. Photo (c) Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)

The Salley Gardens (Irish Tune) (Folksong Arrangements, Volume 1 no.1 (British Isles)) – folksong arrangement for high or medium voice and piano (pre 11 December 1940, Britten aged 27)

Dedication Clytie Mundy (Peter Pears’ teacher in New York)
Text W. B. Yeats
Language English
Duration 3′

Audio clip (with thanks to Hyperion)

The Salley Gardens (Jamie MacDougall (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Background and Critical Reception

The Salley Gardens is the first in a long list of many folksong arrangements made by Britten, right up until the year of his death. They were begun in New York when the composer was undergoing a bout of homesickness, but

This is one of the best-loved of all Britten’s arrangements, and as a result the composer arranged it for a number of forces – singer and orchestra and unison chorus with piano being two of the most popular.


The Salley Gardens is simple and moving, a truly yearning song that makes the most of its beautiful melody.

There is a deep sense of longing in the harmonies Britten chooses to go with the tune here, and he achieves this as early as possible in the piano introduction, despite the words remaining largely positive until the revelation at the end that ‘now I am full of tears’.

It is easy to see why this was a first choice for Britten – Pears’ voice fits it perfectly, especially with the key set as G flat major. This is a key which, as John Bridcut points out, gives more of a ‘black key’ feel to the piece and is much less open.

Recordings used

Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano) (Decca)
Philip Langridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Naxos)
Jamie MacDougall (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Hyperion)
Elizabethan Singers / Louis Halsey (Eloquence)

The Pears-Britten version of this is mandatory, sung and accompanied as if in a timeless trance. As for the more modern versions, Philip Langridge sings this beautifully, with a floating tenor line that gets the ultimate complement from Graham Johnson’s piano. Both performers slow slightly for the ‘young and foolish’ line, stressing Britten’s minor-key diversion that gives the song its melancholic edge. Jamie MacDougall and Malcolm Martineau are very good too.


Langridge and Johnson are here. The choral version with Louis Halsey and the Elizabethan Singers is here

Also written in 1940: Walton – The Wise Virgins

Next up: Little Sir William

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

One Response to Listening to Britten – The Salley Gardens

  1. Pingback: Britten and earworms | Good Morning Britten

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