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Ekho poeta 'The poet's echo', Op 76

author of text

The Poet’s Echo was written during a holiday that Britten and Pears spent in the Soviet Union with Galina Vishnevskaya and Mstislav Rostropovich in August 1965. By this time Britten had already written the Sonata in C (1961), the Cello Symphony (1963) and the First Cello Suite (1964) for Rostropovich and had conceived the soprano solo in War Requiem for Vishnevskaya. Since 1963 he had been considering the possibility of setting Russian texts for a song collection or cycle for the great Bolshoi diva and on his departure from the UK for this Armenian trip he bought a copy of Pushkin’s poems (in Russian with a parallel English translation) for the journey. Britten wrote this cycle while resident at the Composers’ Union in Armenia and the central theme of the work is reflected in the title, referring, to the artist’s struggle to elicit some response from an uncomprehending world, a theme explored from the very outset in Echo. My heart touches on Britten’s personal preoccupation with the heartache so often aroused by the presence of great beauty. The confrontation between Satan and the Angel in the third song takes this tension onto another plane—closer to the conflict between good and evil common to many of the stage works. The next two songs provide strong dramatic contrast, juxtaposing the lyricism of The Nightingale and the Rose with a folk-like Epigram with more than a nod to Mussorgsky—brief, acerbic and thrown off in peasant style.

Lines written during a sleepless night, returns to the cycle’s central theme, drawing the cycle to a close on an uncomfortable, almost eerie note of uncertainty. And the strange circumstances of the first run-through of the cycle, in the Pushkin Museum, towards the end of their trip to Russia, has certainly added to the disturbing quality of the song, as Pears later recalled in his Armenian Holiday diary:

The last song of the set is the marvellous poem of insomnia, the ticking clock, persistent night-noises and the poet’s cry for a meaning in them. Ben has started this with repeated staccato notes high-low high-low on the piano. Hardly had the little old piano begun its dry tick tock tick tock, than clear and silvery outside the window, a yard from our heads, came ding, ding, ding, not loud but clear, Pushkin’s clock joining in his song. It seemed to strike far more than midnight, to go on all through the song, and afterwards we sat spellbound.

The cycle is dedicated to ‘Galya and Slava’ and was first performed by the dedicatees in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, on 2 December 1965.

from notes by John Evans © 2008


Britten: Britten Abroad
SIGCD122Download only
Russian Songs


No 1: Ekha 'Echo'
Track 18 on CDA67355 [2'50]
Track 8 on SIGCD122 [3'03] Download only
No 2: Ya dumal, serdtse pozabďlo 'My heart, I fancied it was over'
Track 19 on CDA67355 [1'32]
Track 9 on SIGCD122 [1'51] Download only
No 3: Angel
Track 20 on CDA67355 [2'13]
Track 10 on SIGCD122 [2'15] Download only
No 4: Solovey i roza 'The nightingale and the rose'
Track 21 on CDA67355 [3'51]
Track 11 on SIGCD122 [4'00] Download only
No 5: Epigramma 'Epigram'
Track 22 on CDA67355 [0'46]
Track 12 on SIGCD122 [0'48] Download only
No 6: Stikhi, sochinennďye noch'yu vo vremya bessonnitsď 'Lines written during a sleepless night'
Track 23 on CDA67355 [4'00]
Track 13 on SIGCD122 [4'24] Download only

Track-specific metadata for CDA67355 track 18

Ekha 'Echo'
Recording date
17 July 2003
Recording venue
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Russian Songs (CDA67355)
    Disc 1 Track 18
    Release date: September 2004
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