In 1944, Britten’s friend (and future librettist of The Rape of Lucretia), the playwright Ronald Duncan, asked Britten at short notice to provide two songs for a new play he had written entitled The Tomb of St. Anthony (later re-named This Way to the Tomb). Although, Britten was heavily involved in the composition of Peter Grimes at the time, he agreed to Duncan’s request, providing a few numbers for the play which was first performed on 11 October 1945 at the Mercury Theatre in London. Britten regarded most of the copious amount of incidental music he composed during the 1930s and ‘40s as purely functional in purpose and made no attempt to publish any of it. Thus the three songs from This Way to the Tomb (entitled Evening, Morning, Night on publication), were only printed posthumously in 1988. Scored for medium voice and accompaniment of harp or piano, the first two are fairly simple in their melodic and harmonic style, the first, Evening, exploiting the ‘blue-note’ characteristics of the minor third degree in a major-key; the second, Morning, being lively and rhythmic, somewhat reminiscent of the instantly catchy numbers in such works as Saint Nicolas and The Little Sweep. The third, Night, is musically more complex employing a four-bar ground bass, perhaps in homage to one of Britten’s favourite composers, Purcell, whose death was being commemorated in the year the song was written.
Reproduced by kind permission of the Britten-Pears Library