In music, poetry: A Britten song cycle and influences on a new work

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Music Honours


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)


Faculty of Education and Arts


Britten has been praised for his ability to translate words into musical terms that seem somehow inevitable. This paper looks at Britten's cycle Songs and Proverbs of William Blake and a song cycle by myself based on J. R. R. Tolkien's The Gest of Beren and Luthien. Divided into two main parts, the first focuses on Britten's song cycle, and the second on my own work, Lingering Light: The Tale of Beren and Luthien. Each part examines the context for the work, the original text and how it has been shaped to create a coherent cycle, and the way in which the music crystallises some vital element of the text. The Blake cycle is a bleak and fatalistic exposition of the human condition, matched by Britten's equally forbidding setting. Every musical gesture, from the time and tonality to each motivic figure, is uniquely suited to the text, creating an interpretation that is both an illustration and an illumination of the poetry. Tolkien's tale of Beren and Luthien follows a similarly doomed path, yet nevertheless retains a thread of hope that outlasts the Fate to come. My purpose in writing this cycle is to share this tale with a wider audience, with Britten's views on the role of the composer and his poetic sensitivity as my guide.

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