Come, heavy Sleep
inspired Britten. Dowland’s song hovers in the shadows between G and B major, exploiting the ambiguity of scale patterns common in English music at this time (neither quite modal nor quite tonal). This perfectly encapsulates the slippage between sleep and death, between rest and disturbance. Britten’s Op 70 Nocturnal
, written for Julian Bream to play at the 1964 Aldeburgh Festival, is an extended exploration of tensions and nightmares behind the song tune. The guitar being a much more popular recital instrument at this point, Bream’s advice was not to write the piece for the lute in case it wasn’t played very much. A magnificent Dowland-inspired addition to the guitar repertoire resulted (in a long line of Dowland adaptations, as Britten was well aware), though personally I harbour a few regrets!
from notes by Elizabeth Kenny © 2008