Listening to Britten – Soldier, won’t you marry me?

Aircraft Production: Girls working on wings by Leslie Cole, used courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Soldier, won’t you marry me? – folksong arrangement (American) for two voices and piano (pre 15 March 1958, Britten aged 44)

Dedication Not known
Text Traditional (American)
Language English
Duration 2′

Background and Critical Reception

The Britten Thematic Catalogue entry for this little-known folksong arrangement reports it as a song whose melody and text were collected by Cecil Sharp in the Southern Appalachians.

It goes on to report that the song was originally intended for Britten’s fifth volume of arrangements, but it was kept from that set for reasons unknown.

Very little is otherwise known about the setting, beyond its single recording with Philip Langridge and Felicity Lott as the two protagonists.


This is one of Britten’s light-hearted encore pieces, ideal for bringing the house down at the end of a mixed-voice recital – but there is a twist in the tale.

The pretty girl’ entreats the soldier to marry her but he consistently refuses on account of a lack of an item of clothing – a hat, a coat, or a pair of shoes. The girl rushes to the shops, convinced this is the only boundary between them and marriage.

Britten’s sparkling piano part trips around the singers before the tempo slows dramatically for the fourth verse, and the soldier’s devastating ‘reveal’ – that he has a wife and baby at home. To all intents and purposes the song is finished there and then – and Britten acknowledges as such, signing off with a throwaway phrase.

With this at the end of a concert it’s likely another encore will be demanded!

Recordings used

Felicity Lott (soprano), Philip Langridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Naxos)

The only recording of this song is brilliantly hammed up by Langridge and Lott, the tenor whispering out the punch line, while Graham Johnson makes the most of the effervescent piano part.


Felicity Lott, Philip Langridge and Graham Johnson can be heard here, part of their extensive collection of Britten folksong arrangements now available on Naxos.

Also written in 1958: Maxwell Davies – Sextet, for flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, piano, violin, and cello

Next up: Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente, Op.61

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