Listening to Britten – Master Kilby

Mousehold Heath, Norwich by John Crome. Photo (c) Girton College, University of Cambridge

Master Kilby (Folksong Arrangements, Volume 6 no.3 (England)) – folksong arrangement (Somerset) for high voice and guitar (pre 17 June 1958, Britten aged 44)

Dedication not known
Text Traditional
Language English
Duration 1’30”

Audio clip (with thanks to Hyperion)
Master Kilby (Jamie MacDougall (tenor), Craig Ogden (guitar))

Background and Critical Reception

Master Kilby is another Cecil Sharp find, this one found in 1909 and published in the Folksongs for Schools. It is originally from Somerset.

Another from the volume written for Pears and Bream to perform, the setting is praised by Lewis Foreman for its ‘merest whisper of figuration’ that is ‘so evocative’.


The triple time lilt of this song is set by the guitar, but Britten typically muddies the waters a little by giving the instrument a throbbing six note accompaniment rather than three. Over this the famous melody has plenty of room.

There is something rather Schubertian about Britten’s setting – the restraint, at the end particularly, the softly pulsing rhythm, and the graceful but yearning melody. Perhaps because of this it feels a lot older than some of the composer’s English settings, and feels to me like a song straight out of the drawing room.

Recordings used

Peter Pears (tenor), Julian Bream (guitar) (Sony)
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)

This song is ideal for Pears, who sings tenderly, with Bream providing a lovely triple time meter. The other three performances are also very fine, with a hint of richness from Jamie MacDougall that suits the song nicely.


Peter Pears and Julian Bream can be found here. Philip Langridge and Carlos Bonell are here, while Ian Partridge and Jukka Savijoki can be found here, part of their very interesting collection of Britten and Berkeley music for voice and guitar. By way of comparison, Alasdair Roberts can be heard singing another arrangement of the traditional version here.

Also written in 1958: Elvis Presley – King Creole

Next up: Nocturne, Op.60

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