In , Britten met the guitarist and lutenist Julian Bream, who was then aged only 19 but already on a mission to expand the guitar repertoire as much as possible. He persuaded Britten to write some songs for voice and guitar, resulting a few years later in a book of folksongs and the Songs from the Chinese , composed in The modern guitar was an unfamiliar instrument to Britten, but as always he conscientiously researched its capabilities, individual sonorities, and particular limitations in order to write as authentically as possible. It is a haunting and elegiac work, and has been recorded by Sean Shibe — among works by Berkeley, Arnold, Walton as well as Dowland — for Delphian with thanks to Delphian for permission to use extracts of Nocturnal. Nocturnal after John Dowland.
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Nocturnal after John Dowland: Reflections on Come, heavy sleep for guitar, op. Clips of the Nocturnal , and the song on which it is based, can be heard below. With thanks to Hyperion. Musingly: Meditativo.
Very agitated: Molto agitato. Restless: Inquieto. Uneasy: Ansioso. March-like: Quasi una marcia. Dreaming: Sognante. Gently rocking: Cullante. Passacaglia: Measured Misurato — Slow and quiet Molto tranquillo. In it he revisited two familiar themes — one more recent, the music of the night, and one from , when the composer wrote his first set of variations on a theme of John Dowland in Lachrymae , for viola and piano.
More specifically Britten wanted to focus on the moment between waking and sleeping, and the curious thoughts and noises that occur at this time. The Dowland song Come, heavy sleep was his starting point. This perfectly encapsulates the slippage between sleep and death, between rest and disturbance.
As with Lachrymae , Britten structured the work so that the variations came first, with the theme itself arriving right at the end as sleep falls. Arnold Whittall recognises the difference between the Nocturnal and the work preceding it. But the Cantata misericordium is far too gentle a work to assert, while Nocturnal is very precisely constructed, not in the least vague about its essential processes.
Nocturnal was first performed by its dedicatee, Julian Bream, at the Aldeburgh Festival. Given its history, it will come as no surprise to learn that the Nocturnal is best experienced last thing at night, when all is quiet. The piece remains edgy the whole way through, the variations giving the guitarist plenty of freedom for expression but only occasionally falling to a slower tempo.
Here the writing is exotic, the unison slides of the Dreaming variation in particular looking forward to later interpretations of Bali, but elsewhere the thoughts are intensely personal, vocal in all but name.
There is very little bluster here, more music of compressed thought, with not a note wasted. Julian Bream is the obvious choice here, either on Sony or EMI, for he has all the tools at his disposal for a strongly coloured account of the Nocturnal , as well as having the advantage of knowing what Britten wanted to hear, and having it written for him. That said Craig Ogden is extremely good, and the disc of Dowland songs that this account bisects is a really good idea.
Stephen Marchionda is good, too, part of an interesting disc that includes Songs from the Chinese with Philip Langridge. Eduardo Fernandez also creates a humid night-time atmosphere. Unfortunately none of the versions listed above is available on Spotify, but there is an enjoyable account from Jukka Savijoki that can be heard on this album , which includes Ian Partridge singing songs for tenor and guitar.
One of my favourite pieces of music by any composer at any period in any style. Never tire of it. Such a flood of masterpieces in so short a time has few precedents. Pingback: Listening to Britten — Lachrymae, Op.
You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. Good Morning Britten. Skip to content. Home Welcome to team BB! Thoughts Given its history, it will come as no surprise to learn that the Nocturnal is best experienced last thing at night, when all is quiet.
Spotify Unfortunately none of the versions listed above is available on Spotify, but there is an enjoyable account from Jukka Savijoki that can be heard on this album , which includes Ian Partridge singing songs for tenor and guitar.
49. Nocturnal after John Dowland
Nocturnal after John Dowland: Reflections on Come, heavy sleep for guitar, op. Clips of the Nocturnal , and the song on which it is based, can be heard below. With thanks to Hyperion. Musingly: Meditativo. Very agitated: Molto agitato. Restless: Inquieto. Uneasy: Ansioso.
Nocturnal after John Dowland, op. 70 by Benjamin Britten
Nocturnal after John Dowland, op. What better piece to start us off in this new category than Nocturnal after John Dowland , Op. Due to the importance and prominence of the composer it is one of the most influential works written in the twentieth century. Julian Bream premiered the piece on 12 June at the Aldburgh Festival. Each variation becomes progressively closer to the Dowland song which finally appears in last movement. You could call this a set of variations in reverse.