Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
A Hymn to the Virgin is the earliest surviving piece of church music written by Britten. Composed for unaccompanied chorus, it dates from 1930 predating Britten’s first published work, the Sinfonietta, by two years. It is an astonishing work of subtlety and maturity written when Britten was only 16 years old. There is a sense of innocence and endearing simplicity that adds mystery to the spiritual drama.
The choir is split into two groups who respond antiphonally, each taking off from where the other finished. The simple, homophonic, diatonic harmony is clear and bright moving effortlessly. The use of the macaronic form is interesting with choir I singing in English and choir II in Latin. The choice of medieval text helps add to the sense of restrained timelessness which A Hymn to the Virgin exhibits.