Listening to Britten – Purcell: Pious Celinda

Rustics and Fishermen (Fifth Dance) – Gloriana by Jane Mackay – her visual response to Britten’s music, used with many thanks to the artist. Jane Mackay’s Sounding Art website can be found here

Pious Celinda, Z410 – Purcell realization for high or medium voice and piano (pre 8 October 1944, Britten aged 30)

Dedication not known
Text William Congreve
Language English
Duration 1’30”

Audio clips (with thanks to Hyperion)

The original [Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor), The King’s Consort / Robert King]

The realization [Ian Bostridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)]

Background and Critical Reception

As Britten approached the year of 1945 his interest in the music of Purcell was reaching a peak, for the 250th anniversary of the older composer’s death was almost at hand. With that in mind his realizations of Purcell were finished thick and fast, including this one of a very short secular song.

It is a Purcell setting of what Robert King describes as a ‘typically cheeky’ William Congreve poem, with a ‘splendidly lighthhearted’ response to the text. It was the first of six realizations Britten completed by October 1944, while he was still occupied with Peter Grimes.


This is a mix of ‘prim and proper’ and the ‘typically cheeky’ response that Robert King talks about. Britten’s piano part is content to sit in the background for this realization, with a couple of flourishes towards the end as the brief song grows in intensity.

I do find with a number of the Purcell realizations that the age of the text means they are quite difficult to understand and relate to, and that there is – to me at least – a blend of Baroque vocal poise and the modern sound of the piano that doesn’t always match up. This was one of those occasions!

Recordings used

Ian Bostridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Hyperion)

Bostridge sings with restraint, Johnson performing likewise in the accompaniment.


Unfortunately Britten’s realization is not on Spotify. The original can be heard here, with Rene Jacobs, Konrad Junghanel and Wieland Kuijken.

Also written in 1944: Frank Martin – Petite symphonie concertante

Next up: The Queen’s Epicedium

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