Lay a Garland plus the Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard

The highlights of last night’s choir practice.

I first sang Pearsall’s Lay a Garland in my first years with Eoes in the 80s and we have returned to it a few times since. It is ravishingly beautiful to hear and sing. Here is a performance by Voces8. It’s faster than some – with one voice per part there’s no opportunity for staggered breathing – and here are the Cambridge Singers.

The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard by Britten is another favourite of mine – tremendously effective story-telling.

The introduction sets the scene with Lady Barnard and Little Musgrave at church acknowledging their hitherto undeclared love and arranging an assignation. The 3 voice parts sing one after another until they break most effectively into harmony for the words ‘I’ve loved thee…’. The piano part has an E-flat pedal in the left hand and the right hand plays 2-parts, one a 3-note repeating motif and the other a 4-note repeating motif, though this is more a pattern that one sees in the score than hears.

The middle section describes Lord Barnard’s page betraying the lovers and LB’s rush to confront them – representations of the galloping horses ( in  6 8 as in Schubert Erlkoenig) and the sound of LB’s horn.

The final 3 pages are LB’s lament as he regrets killing them both – another repeating pattern in the piano part and effective vocal writing where each part has its share of limelight.