This is a rather different Work of the Week. It features Britten’s beautiful realization (or arrangement) of Purcell’s song ‘Sweeter than Roses’, which was first performed in 1945. At The Red House we had the great pleasure of hosting a short residency for mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons and pianist Lana Bode, who were exploring new ways of programming song recitals in collaboration with audiences. While they were here, they very kindly agreed to be filmed playing and discussing the first part of ‘Sweeter than Roses’. It wasn’t a song they had performed before, and we’ve captured on this week’s film their discovery and exploration of its qualities.

As they find while performing it, Britten keeps within a Purcellian (17th century) aesthetic in some ways, yet at the same time brings touches of his own twentieth century harmonic world into the song. Britten was hugely influenced by Purcell, particularly around his sensitivity to text and the expressive potential he found in individual words and even individual syllables. We’re very grateful to Marta and Lana for allowing us to film their first encounter with this remarkably beautiful song.

Britten’s copy of Purcell’s volume Orpheus Britannicus printed in 1706, which includes this song.

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