Listening to Britten – Dear harp of my country!


Singer with a Clàrsach (Gaelic Harp) by Cathleen Mann. (c) the artist’s estate. Photo (c) Glasgow Libraries

Dear harp of my country! (Kate Tyrrel) (Folksong Arrangements, Volume 4 no.7 (Moore’s Irish Melodies)) – folksong arrangement for high voice and piano (1957, Britten aged 43)

Dedication Anthony Gishford – director of Boosey & Hawkes
Text Thomas Moore
Language English
Duration 3′

Audio clip (with thanks to Hyperion)

Dear harp of my country! (Regina Nathan (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano))

Background and Critical Reception

This, the seventh of Britten’s ten arrangements of Thomas Moore’s Irish folksongs, is set to the tune Kate Tyrrel. It is another of the fourth book that has suffered comparative neglect among Britten’s folksong output, performed by the composer and Peter Pears after composition in 1957 but seldom heard after publication in 1960.

The Britten Song Database entry for this setting describes its vocal characteristics as ‘pretty, flowing melody; traditional Irish rhythms; leaps of sixths to F5; descending sixteenth notes; a few high-lying phrases’.

Thoughts

It has been noted that many of Britten’s piano parts in the Irish folksong settings are harp-like, and the harp was an instrument to which he was drawn later in life, mainly through his friendship with Osian Ellis.

This song shows he was already thinking of the instrument, and that he was able to write for the piano as if it were imitating a harp. Indeed the flowing lines here would easily arrange for the instrument.

Unfortunately Thomas Moore’s melody is not his most memorable though, and there is quite a bit going on around it melodically from the piano’s right hand, so despite its watery end and attractive disposition the song carries a lasting refusal to settle.

Recordings used

Philip Langridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Naxos)
Regina Nathan (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Hyperion)

Regina Nathan has a clear tone that works well with this song, applying just a bit more vibrato to the higher points. Likewise, Philip Langridge opts not to use too much vibrato.

Spotify

Philip Langridge and Graham Johnson can be heard here, while an alternative version from Sarah Brightman and Geoffrey Parsons can be heard here.

Also written in 1957: Barber – Vanessa

Next up: Oft in the stilly night

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