Listening to Britten – Purcell: Lost is my quiet for ever


‘Mountjoy has won!’ – 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

Lost is my quiet for ever, Z502 – Purcell realization for high and low voices and piano (pre 21 November 1945, Britten aged 32)

Dedication not known
Text Anon
Language English
Duration 3′

Audio clips with thanks to Hyperion

Original, with Emma Kirkby (soprano), David Thomas (bass) and Anthony Rooley (lute)

Realization, with Susan Gritton (soprano), Sarah Walker (mezzo-soprano) and Graham Johnson (piano)

Background and Critical Reception

On the face of it, the words here are unremittingly bleak. ‘Lost is my quiet for ever, Lost is life’s happiest part; Lost all my tender endeavour, To touch an insensible heart’. The song, whose author is unknown, was published in 1691.

Downtrodden they may be, but Purcell sets the words for two voices – one high and low – and works creatively with them, sometimes close together but at other points very wide apart.

Thoughts

Rightly or wrongly, I find I prefer my Purcell when sung by a female voice. There is something about the open-air quality of his writing that finds its right vehicle, and here the two very contrasting voices are very nicely matched. The end in particular, where voices and piano align on a unison ‘C’, is a pure resolution.

Britten’s piano part wanders lightly in the background, which is not to say that it is approximate, but that it seems to operate outside the relatively strict confines of the duet. As a result there is a slight tension between the two forces, especially when the soprano is at the highest peak.

Recordings used

Susan Gritton (soprano), Sarah Walker (mezzo-soprano), Graham Johnson (piano) (Hyperion)

Susan Gritton copes manfully with the high ‘G’ at the peak of this song, as I would think it a tough job to sing gracefully at this point. Sarah Walker, much lower in range, employs just the right level of vibrato so that the pitch is never compromised.

Spotify

There is no version of Britten’s realization on Spotify, but Pro Cantione Antiqua and Collegeum Aureum can be heard singing the complete original song, directed by Mark Brown, here.

Also written in 1945: Hindemith – String Quartet no.7 in E flat major

Next up: What can we poor females do?

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