Listening to Britten – Purcell: Shepherd, leave decoying

Essex’s Intrusion – 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

Shepherd, leave decoying, from King Arthur, or The British Worthy, Z628 – Purcell realization for high and medium voices and piano (assumed by this blog to be November 1945, Britten aged 32)

Dedication not known
Text John Dryden
Language English
Duration 1’20”

Audio clip with thanks to Hyperion
Realization, with Susan Gritton (soprano), Sarah Walker (mezzo-soprano) and Graham Johnson (piano)

Background and Critical Reception

Shepherd, leave decoying is an excerpt from Purcell’s music for King Arthur, completed and first performed in 1691. It is a duet for two ‘higher’ voices, the characters She and Venus.

Again there is very little known about Britten’s realization and what date it might have been made – with no entry that I could find in the Britten Thematic Catalogue – but the assumption here is that it was another work completed with the 1945 Wigmore Hall concert in mind.


This is a bright, outdoorsy duet that often operates in thirds between the two female voices. Because these assume such great prominence the piano part provides the harmonic detail and little more, though Britten does introduce some tasteful scalic runs to the right hand, which link the lines of the verses up nicely.

The overall sound is quite prim and proper, which makes sense given one of the topics in the song is signing marriage vows!

Recordings used

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

A stylish performance, with Susan Gritton and Sarah Walker particularly good in close harmony, and Graham Johnson enjoying the occasional flourishes of the right hand part.


There is no version of Britten’s realization on Spotify, but two very different versions of the original can be enjoyed. The first, sung by sopranos Sandrine Piau and Véronique Gens, with William Christie conducting Les Arts Florissants, can be heard here. The second is sung by sopranos Kathleen Ferrier and Isobel Baillie here, with an unknown pianist.

Also written in 1945: Humphrey Searle – Bassoon Quintet

Next up: Saul and the witch at Endor

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