Britten’s exquisite English art song cycle,
“Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings”

March 16, 2013 – Here are the lyrics and a YouTube audio of Benjamin Britten’s song cycle Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings (Op. 31).  The poems are by Cotton, Tennyson, Blake, Jonson, and Keats, as well as the unattributed verse known as the “Lyke-Wake Dirge.”

This 1971 Angel recording features tenor Robert Tear and horn player Alan Civil, with the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra conducted by Neville Marriner. Enjoy!

PROLOGUE (instrumental)

PASTORAL (Charles Cotton, 1630—1687)

The day’s grown old; the fainting sun
Has but a little way to run,
And yet his steeds, with all his skill,
Scarce lug the chariot down the hill.

The shadows now so long do grow,
That brambles like tall cedars show;
Mole hills seem mountains, and the ant
Appears a monstrous elephant.

A very little, little flock
Shades thrice the ground that it would stock;
Whilst the small stripling following them
Appears a mighty Polypheme.

And now on benches all are sat,
In the cool air to sit and chat,
Till Phoebus, dipping in the West,
Shall lead the world the way to rest.

NOCTURNE “Blow, Bugle, blow” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1809—1892)

THE splendour falls on castle walls           
      And snowy summits old in story:         
    The long light shakes across the lakes,  
      And the wild cataract leaps in glory.    
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. 

    O hark, O hear! how thin and clear,       
      And thinner, clearer, farther going!     
    O sweet and far from cliff and scar       
      The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

    O love, they die in yon rich sky,  
      They faint on hill or field or river:       
    Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
      And grow for ever and for ever.           
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,        
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.

ELEGY “The Sick Rose” (William Blake, 1757—1827)

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

DIRGE “Lyke-Wake Dirge” (Anonymous, traditional)

THIS ae nighte, this ae nighte,
— Refrain: Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
— Refrain: And Christe receive thy saule.

When thou from hence away art past
To Whinny-muir thou com’st at last

If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon,
Sit thee down and put them on;

If hosen and shoon thou ne’er gav’st nane
The whinnes sall prick thee to the bare bane.

From Whinny-muir when thou may’st pass,
To Brig o’ Dread thou com’st at last;

From Brig o’ Dread when thou may’st pass,
To Purgatory fire thou com’st at last;

If ever thou gavest meat or drink,
The fire sall never make thee shrink;

If meat or drink thou ne’er gav’st nane,
The fire will burn thee to the bare bane;

This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
— Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
— And Christe receive thy saule.

HYMN “The Hymn of Hesperus” (Ben Jonson, 1572—1637)

Queen, and huntress, chaste and fair,
Now the sun is laid to sleep,
Seated in thy silver chair,
State in wonted manner keep :
    Hesperus entreats thy light,
    Goddess excellently bright.

Earth, let not thy envious shade
Dare itself to interpose ;
Cynthia’s shining orb was made
Heaven to clear when day did close :
    Bless us then with wishèd sight,
    Goddess excellently bright.

Lay thy bow of pearl apart,
And thy crystal shining quiver ;
Give unto the flying hart
Space to breathe, how short soever :
    Thou that mak’st a day of night,
    Goddess excellently bright.

SONNET “To Sleep” (John Keats, 1795—1821)

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:

O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen,” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.

Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,—
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;

Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.

EPILOGUE (instrumental)

This post is dedicated to my new friend Elliott, for these last rare views of the sunset through the interlacing branches of Harlem’s winter trees.  – p.k.