Go to BPA Website

Benjamin Britten’s

Song Catalogue

Songs from the Chinese

High voice Guitar

Britten's interest in the music of the Orient was awakened by the concert tour to the Far East that he undertook in 1956. This had an immediate impact on the ballet The Prince of the Pagodas, with its skilful recreation of Balinese gamelan music and may also have been influential in Britten's decision to set Chinese poetry in his next work, Songs from the Chinese which was composed during the Autumn of 1957. The cycle is unique in Britten's output in being scored for tenor and guitar, a result of his friendship with the guitarist Julian Bream (for whom Britten was later to compose the Nocturnal after John Dowland in 1963). However, Britten makes no particular attempt to evoke a specifically 'Chinese' atmosphere - rather, the remarkable aspect of this work is how the musical ideas and textures are governed by an understanding of the guitar's special characteristics and limitations without in any way compromising Britten's musical identity. The songs (translated from the originals by Arthur Waley) cover familiar Britten themes of innocence, loss and regret. Particularly haunting are 'The Old Lute' with its nostalgic reminiscence of the instrument's 'ancient melodies' no longer in fashion, the gently swaying rhythms depicting the ox journey in 'The Herd-boy' and the melancholy guitar glissandi that sound throughout 'Depression', a haunting meditation on age and decay. The exuberant final 'Dance Song', however, brings the cycle to a rousing conclusion.

Audio extracts courtesy of Decca. Peter Pears (tenor), Julian Bream (guitar) (1965)

10 minutes
Vocal Range
Boosey and Hawkes
Voice Type
High voice
Buy Score

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