Go to BPA Website

Benjamin Britten’s

Song Catalogue

Canticle IV Journey of the Magi


The fourth canticle, a setting of one of TS Eliot’s best-known poems, was written in January 1971 for three of Britten’s closest musical colleagues: the counter-tenor James Bowman, tenor Peter Pears and baritone John Shirley-Quirk. It is a somewhat pessimistic and bitter poem which foregoes the more traditional elements of the Christmas story and instead concentrates on the mundane aspects of the journey of the three kings to Bethlehem and their bewildered attempts to understand what they witness there.  The canticle was composed some seventeen years after its predecessor (Canticle III 'Still Falls the Rain'), during which time Britten’s style had undergone considerable changes, most notably an enhanced flexibility in the fields of rhythm and harmony partly influenced by his encounter with the music of the Far East which bore such remarkable fruit in the three Church Parables of the 1960s. There is a link between the fourth canticle and the Parables in the use of plainsong as a source of musical material (in this instance the Antiphon 'Magi videntes stellam', symbolising Christ’s nativity), while the use of the voices, often singing in rhythmic unison, evokes memories of the three Israelites in Britten's second Parable, The Burning Fiery Furnace. The piano provides much graphic imagery from the lumbering footsteps of the journey by camel to the revelation of the plainsong which appears towards the end like a sudden ray of sunshine in an otherwise austere and barren world.

Year of Composition
12 - 22 Jan 1971
11 minutes
Vocal Range
Vocal Range (2)
Vocal Range (3)
Boosey and Hawkes
Voice Type
Buy Score

 Listen to the audio sample

Brittens Song Catalogue

You can browse Britten’s Song Catalogue in three different ways. If you know a key word or title from any song cycle, movement or individual song then use the Search too. If you are looking for a range of songs that fit your specific requirements then use the Refine tool where you can select from a number of options. If you just want to view what songs are available within different categories then use the Explore tool.

Which ever way you choose, we hope you find what you’re looking for.



Text based keyword search for matching titles darr



Results based on your selected options darr



View every available song, indexed into categories darr