Sir Harrison Birtwistle: Down by the Greenwood Side

  • A Dramatic Pastoral (1968/1969)
  • 1 0 1 1 - 0 0 1 0 - perc(1), cornet, euph, vln(1), vc(1)
  • Duration: 30’
  • Instrumentation details:
    fl (+ picc, Afl), cl(Bb) (+ cl(Eb), bass cl), bs (+ cbsn) - cornet(Bb), tbn, Euph - perc(1), vln(1), vc(1)
  • Roles: Mrs. Green, soprano Father Christmas / St. George / Bold Slasher / Dr. Blood, speaker Jack Finney, mime
  • Composer: Sir Harrison Birtwistle
  • Librettist: Michael Nyman
  • Commission: Commissioned by Ian Hunter for the Brighton Festival Society

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Work introduction

Down by the Greenwood Side was commissioned fort he 1969 Brighton Festival. The text comes from two sources: a popular ballad called “The Cruel Mother”, and passages from various mummer plays, the folk plays of the English countryside. The soprano, Mrs. Green, sings the ballad while the actors and mime perform the play. The two ingredients never meet; both are completely self-contained, involved only in themselves. But near the end, in the final tableau, there is a slight acknowledgement of each other’s worlds when the presenter of the mummers’ play, Father Christmas, completes the story Mrs. Green has been telling, and Mrs. Green momentarily enters the mummers’ acting area.

Programme Notes by Michael Hall

BBC Proms 1972


World première

Brighton (GB)
David Atherton

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