Listening to Britten – Come you not from Newcastle?

Haystack by Edward Seago. Photo (c) Estate of Edward Seago courtesy of Portland Gallery, London

Come you not from Newcastle? (English) (Folksong Arrangements, Volume 3 no.7 (British Isles)) – folksong arrangement for high or medium voice and piano (pre 21 February 1946, Britten aged 32)

Dedication Joan Cross
Text From Hullah’s song-book
Language English
Duration 1’30”

Audio clip (with thanks to Hyperion)
Come you not from Newcastle? (Lorna Anderson (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano))

Background and Critical Reception

As Philip Reed writes, ‘Encouraged by the tremendous success of the first pair of volumes of folk song arrangements, made familiar to audiences by Pears’s and Britten’s many wartime recitals together all over the United Kingdom for CEMA and, with the return of peace in 1945, Britten returned to the British Isles for a third set.

The first down on paper appears to have been Come you not from Newcastle, although when the volume was published it was placed seventh in the set. Reed documents its likely first performance as being at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, on 31 October 1946.

Lewis Foreman, in his notes for Hyperion’s set of the folksong arrangements, observes this as one of the songs where Britten ‘takes a feature out of the tune and makes it into the accompaniment.


This is a wonderful song. The to and fro of the piano part suggests the two characters on horseback, though the piano sounds almost like two instruments at once, one in dialogue with the singer and the other coming through in the perpetual rocking motion of the left hand. The harmonies are really attractive and consonant.

When heard in the recording made by Britten and Pears, it is wonderful to hear the backwards and forwards between the two in the second verse, one of many elements of this setting that has made it one of Britten’s most popular. The orchestral version is rather lovely too, with poignant shading from oboes and muted violins.

This is one of the instances where I realised that Britten’s folksong arrangements are in fact genuinely new pieces of original value. It is not a surprise at all the folk purists are wary of them, because they do not for a minute pretend to be authentic folk music. They are, instead, authentic Britten.

Recordings used

Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano) (EMI)
Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano) (Decca)
Felicity Lott (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano) (Naxos)
Lorna Anderson (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Hyperion)
David Wilde (tenor), David Owen Norris (piano)
Philip Langridge (tenor), Northern Sinfonia / Steuart Bedford (Naxos)

Good though the versions from Langridge, Wilde and Anderson are, there really is no substitute for hearing Britten and Pears in either of their two versions, which are utterly charming and more than a little wistful.


This is a popular folksong arrangement on record. Pears and Britten can be found here in their version for Decca, and here for EMI. Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson are here, Philip Langridge appears here in the orchestral version,

Meanwhile Kathleen Ferrier and Frederick Stone can be heard here, transposed down from F to D major.

Also written in 1946: Tippett – Little Music for String Orchestra

Next up: Celemene

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