Listening to Britten – Purcell: When Myra Sings

For Forty Years’ from Saint Nicolas, Op. 42 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

When Myra Sings, Z521 – Purcell realization for soprano or tenor, bass and piano (pre 26 June 1971, Britten aged 57)

Dedication not known
Text George Granville, Lord Lansdowne
Language English
Duration 3′

Audio clip

Britten’s realization, performed by Ian Bostridge (tenor), Richard Jackson (baritone) and Graham Johnson (piano). With thanks to Hyperion

Background and Critical Reception

Another of Britten’s realizations of a Purcell duet for higher and lower voices, When Myra Sings is again, like Dulcibella, Whene’er I sue for a kiss, an independent duet.

Presumably the composer had Peter Pears and John Shirley-Quirk in mind as the two singers when making the two realizations.


There is a solemn start to this duet, but the word setting is quite a florid one, matched by some elaborate spread chords in the piano part that supply harmonic backing without clouding the rhythm too much. There is a brighter triple time episode in the middle before the solemn mood returns, and the voices literally run out of steam in a sharply focused reference to the words ‘he dies’.

This makes what might have been a more routine realization much more memorable, with the voices more inclined to sing as one than they are in Dulcibella. There is also another rather nice shift to the major key at the end.

Recordings used

Ian Bostridge (tenor), Richard Jackson (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano) (Hyperion)

Very well sung, particularly when deliberately short of breath near the end!


Unfortunately neither the original nor Britten’s realization can be found on Spotify.

Also written in 1971: Elliott Carter – String Quartet no.3

Next up: Death in Venice, Op.88

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