Listening to Britten – The Miller of Dee

Sunlight, Suffolk Stream by Edward Seago. Photo (c) Estate of Edward Seago courtesy of Portland Gallery, London

The Miller of Dee (English) (Folksong Arrangements, Volume 3 no.4 (British Isles)) – folksong arrangement for high or medium voice and piano (pre 11 March 1946, Britten aged 32)

Dedication Joan Cross
Text From Hullah’s song-book
Language English
Duration 1’45”

Audio clips (with thanks to Decca and Hyperion)

The Miller of Dee (Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano))

The Miller of Dee (Jamie MacDougall (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Background and Critical Reception

For The Miller of Dee Britten turned again to John Hullah’s The Song Book.

Lewis Foreman describes how ‘the conventional sound of the mill-race in the rushing accompaniment is made striking by the constant opposition of E flat against the E natural of the vocal line’.


Britten’s ability to paint a picture through his piano accompaniments is put to especially vivid use here, as the waters swirl rather ominously around the miller.

As Foreman says, the constant clash of notes gives the setting a rather darker air, as the idea of the ‘jolly miller’ is given a twist by the final line, ‘I care for nobody, no not I, if nobody cares for me’.

It is a strangely unsettling song.

Recordings used

Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano) (Decca)
Philip Langridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Naxos)
Jamie MacDougall (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Hyperion)
Mark Padmore (tenor), Roger Vignoles (piano) (Harmonia Mundi)

Padmore sings loudly and boldly. Langridge gives a very effective, flat emphasis on the words ‘nobody cares for….me’.

Pears and Britten are much faster, and Britten makes his left hand piano line sound like pizzicato strings, moving to the rather dark end.


Pears and Britten can be found here in their version for Decca. Philip Langridge and Graham Johnson are here, while Mark Padmore and Roger Vignoles appear (a href=””>here.

Also written in 1946: Korngold – Cello Concerto

Next up: The Rape of Lucretia, Op.37

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