Britten’s songs can scarcely be described as simple, particularly in terms of the psychological complexity and ambiguity of his many song cycles, of which Charm of Lullabies (1947) is the seventh. It was composed for the mezzo-soprano Nancy Evans, who had alternated with Kathleen Ferrier the title role of The Rape of Lucretia the previous year, and who also created the role of Nancy in 1947’s Albert Herring. The texts are all taken from A Book of Lullabies 1300-1900 and in their various ways suggest to the listener that you’re never too young to be told of life’s dangers.
There are five songs in the original cycle, but Britten composed another two settings taken from the same Book of Lullabies. These were discarded, and their manuscript scores have lines crossed through them indicating they were not to be included with the main group. But they have recently been typeset by the Britten-Pears Foundation’s Director of Music, Colin Matthews, and are to have their premiere at the BBC Proms on Monday 6 August. The soloist will be the mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, who discusses these beautiful songs in this week’s film, and has kindly allowed us to include extracts of them taken from her new disc for Chandos, Come to me in my Dreams.