Listening to Britten – Purcell: Take not a woman’s anger ill

‘I am thrown into a corner’ – Gloriana by Jane Mackay – her visual response to Britten’s music, used with many thanks to the artist. Jane Mackay’s Sounding Art website can be found here

Take not a woman’s anger ill, Z609/11 – Purcell realization for high voice and piano (February 1963, Britten aged 49)

Dedication not known
Text Robert Gould
Language English
Duration 1’30”

Audio clips (with thanks to Decca and Hyperion)

The original [Martyn Hill (tenor), The Academy of Ancient Music / Christopher Hogwood]

The realization [John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)]

Background and Critical Reception

Britten was now only occasionally returning to the songs of Henry Purcell, but he continued to ‘realize’ them for performance with Peter Pears right up until the year he died. The Britten Thematic Catalogue details how this particular song was arranged for performances with Peter Pears in Moscow and Leningrad in March 1963, apparently with the accompaniment of a small orchestra.

The very short number is taken from Purcell’s theatre music for The Rival Sisters, also known as The Violence of Love, completed in 1695.


A ‘crisp and even’ number that is only a minute and a half in length, this song has a ‘clip-clop’ figure on the piano that suggests an easygoing horse ride.

With its throwaway figure at the end it is easy to see how this would work well in concert, especially if it were teamed with Hark the ech’ing air, as the Britten Thematic Catalogue implies it would be.

Britten stays very faithful to Purcell’s original harmony, the song essentially a reproduction rather than a reinterpretation.

Recordings used

John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Hyperion)

The staccato both performers use in this version is key, giving it a nice bit of humour in the tiny chords at the end.


Britten’s realization is not on Spotify, but the original can be heard here, performed by tenor Martyn Hill and the Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood.

Also written in 1963: Stravinsky – Abraham and Isaac

Next up: Gemini Variations, Op.73

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