Listening to Britten – Purcell: A Morning Hymn

‘Ballad’ – 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

A Morning Hymn, Z198 (Two Divine Hymns and Alleluia (1) – Purcell realization for high voice and piano (pre 30 October 1946, Britten aged 32)

Dedication not known
Text William Fuller
Language English
Duration 3′

Audio clips with thanks to Hyperion

Original, with Nicholas Witcomb (treble), The King’s Consort / Robert King

Realization, with Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor) and Graham Johnson (piano)

Background and Critical Reception

Although the words for Purcell’s Morning Hymn are credited to Bishop William Fuller, the composer himself had some input into the text for the finished article, described by Robert King as ultimately ‘less optimistic’.

The song depicts the start of another day in its gently moving start, but ‘regret quickly returns as the poet remembers ‘the time I have mis-spent in sinful merriment’, and the pitch rises as he sings that if he could, he would undo the offences of the past’.

Although the Britten Thematic Catalogue lists the date for the realization as ‘pre 30 October 1946’, there is no information on where it was first performed. Fair to assume that as with most of these works, it formed part of a Britten-Pears recital.


This is another highly descriptive Purcell song that needs very little in the way of accompaniment in the piano realization. Having said that there are passages where the piano becomes more excitable, usually between phrases or when moving between harmonies.

Britten however is largely content to let Purcell’s line take its course, in a song that effectively evokes the state of early morning worry that none of us like!

Recordings used

Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Hyperion)

The song opens as something of a reverie in this performance, before becoming increasingly florid and expressive. Both performers keep a very flexible tempo throughout to allow this to happen more. Rolfe-Johnson sings of the ‘sinful merriment’ with appropriate sorrow.


Britten’s realization does not appear on Spotify, but there is a version of the original that can be heard here, performed by Rosemary Joshua with Les Talens Lyriques directed by Christophe Rousset.

Also written in 1946: Martinů – Symphony no.5

Next up: Suite of songs from Orpheus Brittanicus

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