Parallels Between the Songs by Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten

Laima Budzinauskienė, Giedrė Muralytė (PDF)

Through their musical connection, composers Henry Purcell (1659–1695) and Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) were major figures in the English culture and became a bridge between Baroque and the twentieth century. Britten had an idea to refresh the English music and literature, to show the beauty, freedom and vividness of the English language. Britten not only created his own original compositions, but also made arrangements of English, Irish and French folk songs (for piano, harpsichord, or guitar) and realisations of Purcell’s songs. In that experimental field, Britten was inspired by Purcell’s songs and adopted some musical ideas from them.

When comparing Purcell’s and Britten’s songs in the aspects of linearity, melody, illustrativity, rhythm and tonality shifting, one can notice that Britten borrowed some ideas from Purcell and adopted, modified them in his own way. Thus, when omparing Britten’s realisations of Purcell’s songs with the arrangements and vocal cycles Winter Words op. 52 and Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente op. 61 composed during the period from 1943 to 1961 one can notice parallels and similarities in the aspects of melody, melismas, illustrativity, rhythm, etc. The analysis showed that Winter Words and Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente were directly inspired by the musical language of Purcell, especially the experimental aspects of Britten’s musical language such as the invention of a lively figuration.

Key words: Henry Purcell, Benjamin Britten, vocal cycles, songs, re-composition, realisation