A gap of seventeen years intervened before the composition of the fourth Canticle, The Journey of the Magi
, Op 86, in 1971, for which Britten chose the poem of the same title by T S Eliot. It is scored for countertenor, tenor and baritone as the Magi, again with piano accompaniment, and is cast in a kind of rondo form, in which the journey by camel provides the mood of the ritornello sections. Eliot’s ambiguous poem has little in the way of overt Christian references, which Britten solves by using the plainsong antiphon melody ‘Magi videntes stellam’ as the basis of the central episode.
from notes by Michael Short © 1992