Listening to Britten – I will give my love an apple

Ribston Pippins in a Rush Basket with Mistletoe Sprig by Eloise Harriet Stannard. Photo (c) Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)

I will give my love an apple (Folksong Arrangements, Volume 6 no.1 (England)) – folksong arrangement (Dorset) for high voice and guitar (pre 6 May 1956, Britten aged 42)

Dedication not known
Text Traditional
Language English
Duration 2′

Audio clip (with thanks to Hyperion)
I will give my love an apple (Jamie MacDougall (tenor), Craig Ogden (guitar))

Background and Critical Reception

For his second folksong arrangement with guitar, Britten took a traditional tune noted by H.E.D. Hammond in Dorset in 1906. It was originally published as part of Hammond’s collection for Boosey & Hawkes, and was also taken up by Vaughan Williams in his Folksongs for Schools.

As with The shooting of his dear this was written with the relatively new performing combination of Peter Pears and Julian Bream in mind, and both received their first performances, along with The soldier and the sailor.


This rather sorrowful song is uncertain in its meandering tonality, Britten presenting the mournful tune with very little in the way of safe harmony to latch on to, the vocal line completely exposed.

Yet as the tune and harmony unite at the very end of each verse there is a brief sense of togetherness which is unexpectedly moving.

Recordings used

Robert Tear (tenor), Timothy Walker (guitar) (EMI)
Philip Langridge (tenor), Carlos Bonell (guitar) (Naxos)
Jamie MacDougall (tenor), Craig Ogden (guitar) (Hyperion)
Ian Partridge (tenor), Jukka Savijoki (guitar) (Ondine)

Four very different performances here. Robert Tear is slow and mournful, the fullness of his voice emphasised in the long notes, with Timothy Walker’s softly arpeggiated lines the ideal match.

Jamie MacDougall is almost twice as fast, so his interpretation sounds more purposeful than sad, while Langridge and Bonell are in between the two, beautifully sung. Ian Partridge, meanwhile, sings softly and meaningfully – perhaps the choice of the four.


Philip Langridge and Carlos Bonell are here, while Ian Partridge and Jukka Savijoki can be found here, part of a very interesting collection of Britten and Berkeley music for voice and guitar. By way of comparison, countertenor Andreas Scholl can be heard singing the traditional version here.

Also written in 1956: Bliss – Edinburgh Overture

Next up: The soldier and the sailor

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