Britten's final song cycle A Birthday Hansel (a 'hansel' is an old Scottish word for a welcome gift or present) was composed in 1975 and first performed by Peter Pears and Osian Ellis in January 1976 on the occasion of the Queen Mother's 75th birthday. In recognition of the dedicatee's Scottish ancestry, Britten selected seven poems by Robert Burns, sung in Scots dialect and performed without a break. By drawing on the characteristic inflexions of traditional Scottish folk and dance music, Britten conveys an appropriately 'Celtic' atmosphere, though the musical material is entirely original. As one might expect, the harp provides much more than simple accompaniment to the voice, employing a wide range of devices and effects to colourful effect as well as performing the necessary transitions from song to song.
Audio extracts courtesy of Decca. Peter Pears (tenor) and Osian Ellis (harp) (1976).
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