Listening to Britten – She’s like the swallow

An East Coast Village by Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery, London

She’s like the swallow (Eight Folksong Arrangements / 2) – folksong arrangement for high voice and harp (April – June 1976, Britten aged 62)

Dedication Not known
Text Traditional
Language English
Duration 3′

Audio clips

The first half of the Hyperion recording by Jamie MacDougall and Bryn Lewis can be heard at their website

Background and Critical Reception

The second of Britten’s eight folksong arrangements for high voice (Pears) and harp (Ellis), She’s like the swallow is a Newfoundland song adapted from a song sung by John Hunt at Dunville, Placentia Bay, on 8 July 1930.

This information comes from the complete Hyperion recording of the folksongs, though the Britten Thematic Catalogue elaborates by giving a collector – Maud Karpeles – who published Folk Songs from Newfoundland through Faber & Faber in 1971.


She’s Like The Swallow picks up from where Lord! I Married Me A Wife left off, cast in the same key but with a more flowing approach.

It is however another mysterious song with darker undertones, perhaps best heard in the final line of the chorus, where the subject sings, ‘I love my love and love is no more’. The harp adds to the otherworldly atmosphere with its softly oscillating figures that stick to the tenor line like glue, and never feel confident enough to establish a firm harmony. There is always a nagging note or two to pull the music away – elusive, just like the swallow of the song.

Recordings used

Philip Langridge (tenor), Osian Ellis (harp) (Naxos)
Jamie MacDougall (tenor), Bryn Lewis (harp) (Hyperion)

Grace and beauty are the two words that best describe Langridge’s account with Osian Ellis, who capture the mystery of Britten’s setting. MacDougall and Lewis are also softly effective here.


Langridge and Ellis can be heard here, as part of the complete Britten folksong arrangements re-released by Naxos in two volumes.

Also written in 1976: Penderecki – Violin Concerto No. 1

Next up: Lemady

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