Listening to Britten – Eho! Eho!

A Monastic Funeral by Moonlight by Josephine Bowes. Used with many thanks to The Bowes Museum

Eho! Eho! (Folksong Arrangements, Volume 2 no.7 (France)) – folksong arrangement for high or medium voice and piano (December 1942, Britten aged 29)

Dedication Arnold and Humphrey Gyde
Text Traditional
Language French
Duration 2′

Audio clip (with thanks to Hyperion)
Eho! Eho! (Lorna Anderson (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano))

Background and Critical Reception

The penultimate of Britten’s folksong settings for Sophie Wyss, Eho! Eho! does not merit as much of a mention outside of the set of eight.

It was however one of the five that Britten chose to set for baritone Martial Singher and a small chamber orchestra, showing the flexibility that a lot of these settings have for either male or female voice, high or medium.


This comes as something of a jolt after the soft melancholy of Il est quelqu’un sur terre, showing why Britten’s French folksong settings work extremely well as a suite on their own.

The inflections on the melody even suggest an influence from much further East, and they dominate the song, although Britten is careful not to give the melody too much of a home as he writes a piano part designed to remove the song from any safe moorings.

The song’s subject matter and execution are classic Mahler – ‘despite the futile cries, the wolves devour the lambs’ a translation of a line from the song that shows Britten’s texts continue to have a darker underbelly.

The orchestral version, with its braying woodwind, is even closer to the world of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, showing the influence that Mahler exerted on Britten’s compositions at this stage.

Recordings used

Philip Langridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Naxos)
Lorna Anderson (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Hyperion)
Anne Sofie von Otter (soprano), Bengt Forsberg (piano) (Deutsche Grammophon)
Susan Gritton (soprano), Iain Burnside (piano) (Signum Classics)
Felicity Palmer (soprano), Endymion Ensemble / John Whitfield (EMI)

There are some fraught performances here, but there appears not to be a Britten or Pears recording of this setting available.


Philip Langridge and Graham Johnson can be heard by clicking here, while Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg are here. Thomas Hampson, with the Northern Sinfonia conducted by Steaurt Bedford, is here

Also written in 1942: Johnny Mercer – Strip Polka

Next up: Quand j’étais chez mon père

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s