Listening to Britten – Bird Scarer’s Song


Norfolk Hayfield by Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery, London

Lord! I Married Me A Wife (Eight Folksong Arrangements / 1) – folksong arrangement for high voice and harp (April – June 1976, Britten aged 62)

Dedication Not known
Text Traditional
Language English
Duration 1′

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

Britten signs off his solo vocal output with this short cameo, a setting of a song from the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, collected by Cecil Sharp.

Eric Roseberry gives a detailed observation that ‘In the wild cadenza-like commotion of Birdscarer’s Song…there is high art and admirable economy in Britten’s free treatment of folk vocal line and harp accompaniment – wildness in the quasi-inversion of the tune implicit in the opening harp octaves, a whirring of wings in the partial heterophony of the harp tremolo that accompanies ‘Shoo arlo birds’, and tension in the simple yet dramatic (mixed modal B major-minor versus pentatonic Bb) bitonality’.

Thoughts

To me this sounds like original Britten, outdoors and in the fields – but again with a dark undercurrent to the shooing of the birds, which for some reason I took to be crows.

The harp portrays the reckless fluttering of wings with uncanny accuracy, while the scarer resorts to clapping his hands at the end, at which point the harp completes its upward sweep – the birds sent on their way.

Though only a minute long, it is a remarkably vivid picture of an outdoor scene.

Recordings used

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

Philip Langridge gets fully into character as the Scarer, more so than Jamie MacDougall. Both supporting harpists, Osian Ellis and Bryn Lewis, are excellent.

Spotify

Langridge and Ellis can be heard here, though if you want a deeper voice John Shirley-Quirk and Ellis are here

Also written in 1976: Schnittke – Piano Quintet

Next up: Welcome Ode, Op.95

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