On This Island was Britten’s first published group of songs with piano. It sets five poems by W.H.Auden from the collection Look, Stranger! which had been published in 1936 and which included two poems dedicated to Britten. Compared to Britten’s previous song cycle, Our Hunting Fathers, which has a quasi-symphonic unity, On This Island is more a sequence of self-contained vignettes, perhaps reflecting the recent experience of composing the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. They are also notably simpler in their relatively orthodox approach to word-setting and use of more traditional harmony. Perhaps the most striking song is the fourth, Nocturne, which with its daring reliance on the most economical of musical means sounds perhaps the most personal note in the work and anticipates the inspired simplicities found in such later vocal works at Les Illuminations and the Michelangelo Sonnets.
Reproduced by kind permission of the Britten-Pears Library