Listening to Britten – Purcell: I take no pleasure in the sun’s bright beams

Ensemble: ‘Overcome Tyrone!’ – 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

I take no pleasure in the sun’s bright beams, Z388 – Purcell realization for high voice and piano (pre 13 June, 1951, Britten aged 37)

Dedication not known
Text Anon
Language English
Duration 2′

Audio clips with thanks to Hyperion
Original, with Susan Gritton (soprano) and The King’s Consort / Robert King

Realization, with Ian Bostridge (tenor) and Graham Johnson (piano)

Background and Critical Reception

Robert King writes that this anonymous text appears in a manuscript of poems and verses collected in the late seventeenth century at Winchester College, under the heading Some of my dear Mother Chamberlaine’s Verses.

He observes of how Purcell’s setting ‘eloquently captures that air of melancholy, colouring the ‘dark and silent shady grove’ and the ‘Death’s embraces’ at the lower end of the voice’.

Again it seems the exact date of Britten’s realization is not known, but can be approximately judged by when it was first performed.


Britten adds a softly oscillating right hand figure to this realization, which means the music never settles and is largely restless throughout.

With the vocal writing lower down in the tenor range the two lines are quite close together, and only really resolve towards the end, in a mood of reflection that has yet to find peace.

Recordings used

Ian Bostridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Hyperion)

After quite a careful start, this version settles but remains necessarily sombre. Bostridge sings with great control.


There is no recording of Britten’s realization on Spotify – however the original song, sung by Vegard Lund, can be heard here.

Also written in 1951: Stravinsky – The Rake’s Progress

Next up: Billy Budd, Op.50

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