Listening to Britten – Pray Goody

Lime Pit Cottages, Ipswich Road, Norwich by Catherine Maude Nichols. Photo (c) Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)

Pray Goody for high voice and piano (ca 1945-1946, Britten aged 32)

Dedication Not known
Text Kane O’Hara
Language English
Duration 0’45”

Background and Critical Reception

As Philip Reed writes in his comprehensive guide to the folksong arrangements, an indispensable part of the Collins Classics set released in 1995, ‘as with many of Britten’s song-cycles, his volumes of folk song arrangements originally included items that were rejected when the time for publication arrived.

Hey Goody appears to be one of these songs, setting a tune by Charles Burney and eighteenth-century text by the Irish playwright Kane O’Hara.

Yet despite its brevity the song is welcomed by Britten scholars such as John Bridcut, who recognises that its ‘high jinks….make a good encore’.


There is a surprisingly aggressive introduction to Pray Goody, Britten no doubt seeking to evoke the ‘sparks of fury from your eyes’.

He does so in one of his very shortest songs, a curt and no nonsense utterance that is blinked and missed if you’re out of earshot for 45 seconds!

It’s easy to imagine this working well at the end of a vocal recital, with people returning to their seats and sitting down – only to be dismissed again a second later.

Recording used

Philip Langridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Naxos)

There appears to be just the one recording of Pray Goody, and it finds Graham Johnson on unusually aggressive here, and Langridge’s staccato delivery is very well done.


Philip Langridge and Graham Johnson can be heard by clicking here.

Also written in 1946: Rubbra – Cello Sonata, Op.60

Next up: We sing to him, whose wisdom form’d the ear

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