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Britten: O Rose, Thou Art Sick

Can you guess this piece? Here’s a hint: never trust a worm…

Written for the unusual combination of tenor voice, French horn, and strings, Britten’s “Serenade” collects together disparate texts, including anonymous 15th-century religious poetry, as well as poems by major figures such as Keats, Tennyson, Ben Jonson, and, in the movement we just heard, William Blake. Blake, who lived in the late 18th and early 19th century, was a visionary romantic poet whose work used vivid metaphors to examine spirituality and revolutionary politics. In the poem Britten set, for example, a worm conquers and consumes a rose, in an allegory of beauty, innocence, and corruption. These themes would continue to attract Britten, who would later make them the focus of operas such as “The Turn of the Screw” and “Billy Budd.”

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