Listening to Britten – Purcell / Weldon: Alleluia

Final Dance of Homage (Sixth 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

Alleluia, ZS14 – Purcell realization for high voice and piano (pre 19 October 1944, Britten aged 30)

Dedication not known
Text Anon!
Language Hebrew
Duration 2′

Audio clip (with thanks to Hyperion)

The realization [Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)]

Background and Critical Reception

The music for this one-word exultation was originally attributed to Purcell but is in fact by John Weldon, as part of his anthem O Lord, rebuke me not. It was erroneously published under Purcell’s name in a nineteenth-century anthology – an error that presumably came to light after Britten had completed his realization.


This is a more ‘melismatic’ song, by which I mean there are many notes per word. Given the whole song, in all its two minutes, is only one word then it does lead to a good deal of repetition!

Perhaps because of this I didn’t really warm to the song, though Britten’s piano part is sensitive to the florid movements of the voice, and sets more of a pulse than anything else.

Recordings used

Anthony Rolfe Johnson (piano), Graham Johnson (piano) (Hyperion)
Derek Lee Ragin (countertenor), Julius Drake (piano) (Etcetera)

Derek Lee Ragin uses this as the first number in what is a live recital with Julius Drake. It is an exuberant and extravagant performance from the countertenor, rather more extravert than Anthony Rolfe Johnson, whose celebrations are a bit more reserved, along with Graham Johnson’s piano.


Derek Lee Ragin and Julius Drake can be heard here.

Also written in 1944: Milhaud – Suite française

Next up: Festival Te Deum, Op.32

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