Cabaret Songs

General Information

GenreSong-cycle .  LanguageEnglishYear of the Premiere1937


Composed between 1937 and 1939, Britten´s Cabaret Songs deal with love and hardship in a humorous, sometimes surreal, sometimes darkly ironic manner, mixing popular, satirical cabaret styles with classical sophistication. Written as high-quality light music, the songs are settings of poetry by Britten’s friend and mentor, W.H. Auden, and were composed for Hedli Anderson, the entertainer, chorus line leader and cabaret singer. The first song is a tongue-in-cheek evocation of American light music, with a Cole-Porter style vamping piano part. The second, Funeral Blues, turns the poetry of Auden’s Stop all the clocks into a pastiche of the stoical, baleful world of blues music. In Johnny, Britten cycles through parodies of Italian opera, folksong and French waltz, each verse concluding with Johnny “frowning like thunder and going away”, leading into the African-American and West Indian inspired rhythms of Calypso. Auden wrote the text for this final song just as he was falling in love with the American poet Chester Kallman: it depicts the singer rushing to Grand Central station to meet a lover, Britten’s music accompanying it with a frantic musical imitation of a moving train.