Listening to Britten – Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn (I was lonely and forlorn)


The Wensum at Norwich, December by Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery, London

Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn (I was lonely and forlorn) (Eight Folksong Arrangements / 5) – folksong arrangement for high voice and harp (April – June 1976, Britten aged 62)

Dedication Not known
Text Traditional
Language Welsh
Duration 2’20

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 fifth of Britten’s eight folksong arrangements for voice and harp is set in Welsh, using words by Osian Ellis to the traditional Welsh tune Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn.

Paul Kildea, who does not often refer to the folksongs in his biography of the composer, speaks of how ‘the arrangements in this volume are gentler than those made by the young, homesick composer stuck in America, unwell and frustrated; but they display all the earlier songs’ life and invention. And though there is nostalgia at work in these settings, much as there was in the first volume, such arrangements now took up less space on the page and in his mind.’

Kildea goes on to declare his favourite of the eight. ‘The most beautiful of these songs – perhaps the most beautiful of all his many folksong arrangements – is a sad little Welsh tune’, he writes. ‘It tells (in Welsh) the story of a young man’s unrequited love, which Britten sets as a lute song, the narrator strumming away as he relates his unhappy tale, Dowland’s melancholia thick in the air’.

Thoughts

It is easy to see why Kildea got so carried away about this particular song, as it does cast a spell on its listener.

This is due to the almost constant thrumming of the harp, which seems to encourage the singer to greater heights. The tune is a grand one, especially when sung slowly, and Britten’s elaborations on the harp feel just right, completing what could be an ideal encore piece.

Ultimately the tale is a tragic one, the final chorus singing with great regret, ‘For I had watched the ripening wheat, Yet others reaped her loving’.

Recordings used

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

Philip Langridge sings rapturously, especially in the quieter closing verse, with voluminous colour from Osian Ellis’s harp.

Spotify

Langridge and Ellis can be heard here

Also written in 1976: Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains The Same

Next up: Dafydd Y Garreg Wen (David of the White Rock

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