Hyperion Records

The Sword in the Stone
composer
1939; incidental music for a dramatic adaptation of T H White's eponymous novel

Recordings
'Britten: Phaedra & other works' (CDH55225)
Britten: Phaedra & other works
Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDH55225  Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service  
Details
Movement 1: Introduction and Boys' Tune
Track 21 on CDH55225 [2'02] Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service
Movement 2: Merlyn's Tune and Tree Music
Track 22 on CDH55225 [1'45] Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service
Movement 3: Merlyn's Spell and Witch Tune
Track 23 on CDH55225 [1'02] Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service
Movement 4: Bird Music
Track 24 on CDH55225 [1'02] Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service
Movement 5: Lullaby
Track 25 on CDH55225 [1'24] Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service
Movement 6: Water Theme and End Music
Track 26 on CDH55225 [2'23] Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service

The Sword in the Stone
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In 1939 the BBC commissioned Britten to write an extensive score of incidental music for a dramatic adaptation of T H White’s highly successful Arthurian novel, The Sword in the Stone, which concerns Arthur’s boyhood, when he was known as ‘Wart’, his friendship with Kay (Wart’s foster-brother), his education under Merlyn’s guidance and the eventual revelation that he is in fact King Arthur.

Britten’s use of parody is prevalent throughout much of the score, a technique employed in response to the text’s parodic relationship to its Arthurian forebears of Malory and Tennyson. The most interesting target for parodic treatment in the score is the music of Wagner, in particular motifs from the ‘Ring’. Wagner was a favourite composer in Britten’s youth and the influence of Tristan, for example, can be detected in Britten’s precocious Quatre chansons françaises (1928). In The Sword in the Stone music the Wagnerian references are thinly veiled: Merlyn’s Tune echoes the sound of the Rheingold prelude, suggested by the similar primordial mood of the subjects (note also how Merlyn’s academic credentials are laid out musically in the contrapuntal writing); in the same number Britten appropriately includes Wagner’s ‘Sword’ motif in the correct key (C major), played by the correct instrument (trumpet); and in the End Music a brief snatch of the ‘Freedom’ motif from Act I of Siegfried can be detected. Wagner is also to be found in the witty Bird Music in which the composer eschews imitating real bird calls in favour of a medley of musical birds compiled from various sources including Beethoven, Richard Strauss and Delius.

Britten also incorporates some sophisticated, albeit small-scale, musico-dramatic symbolism in the score. In Boys’ Tunes, for example, the open-minded Wart, unaware of his true identity, is represented by a lively semiquaver tune on piccolo and clarinet in the innocent key of C major. Kay’s theme, however, could not be more sharply contrasted: its march-like, almost pompous quality in the regal key of A flat reflects his tremendous self-importance, as does the use of brass rather than the chirpy woodwind.

from notes by Philip Reed © 1996

Track-specific metadata
Click track numbers opposite to select

Details for CDA66845 track 22
Merlyn's Tune and Tree Music
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-96-84522
Duration
1'45
Recording date
22 November 1995
Recording venue
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Britten: Phaedra & other works (CDA66845)
    Disc 1 Track 22
    Release date: May 1996
    Deletion date: November 2004
    Superseded by CDH55225
  2. Britten: Phaedra & other works (CDH55225)
    Disc 1 Track 22
    Release date: January 2006
    Deletion date: February 2014
    Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service
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