Listening to Britten – Early one morning

Sunrise on the Yare, Norfolk by Thomas Lound. Photo courtesy of Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service

Early one morning (Folksong Arrangements, Volume 5 no.4 (British Isles)) – folksong arrangement for high voice and piano (pre 23 April 1957, Britten aged 43)

Dedication Not known
Text Traditional
Language English
Duration 3′

Audio clips (with thanks to Decca and Hyperion)

Early one morning (Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano))

Early one morning (Lorna Anderson (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano))

Background and Critical Reception

Having set ten of Thomas Moore’s Irish melodies, Britten returned to his home country with Early One Morning, adding to the three songs already finished as part of the fifth volume. At this point the composer’s fingers were in several pies, to coin a phrase, with work on Noye’s Fludde, Songs from the Chinese and the Nocturne in full swing.

Britten had in fact already set Early one morning on one occasion previously, as part of the film score for Village Harvest in 1936. Lewis Foreman speculates that the source for this may have been a school compilation of folksongs.


There is a beautiful simplicity to the setting of this song, which sounds a lot more ‘English’ than recent settings we have heard.

The watery piano part takes a back seat to the pure melody, which has a beautiful restfulness to it. Yet – as so often with Britten, even in these settings – there is a darker side, revealed by the refrain ‘O don’t deceive me! O do not leave me! How could you use a poor maiden so?’ Britten choses not to read too much into this part of the text, but the fragility of the piano part can be telling in the right performance.

Recordings used

Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano) (Decca)
Felicity Lott (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano) (Naxos)
Lorna Anderson (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Hyperion)

The purity of this song suits the soprano voice, and both Felicity Lott and Lorna Anderson find a restrained elegance in their performances, with sensitive accompaniment from their respective pianists. Yet because of his distinctive tenor tone Peter Pears also excels in this song, with characteristically limpid accompaniment from the composer.



Also written in 1957: Shostakovich – Symphony no.11 G minor, Op. 103 ‘The Year 1905’

Next up: The Holly and the Ivy

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