As its title suggests, it is in six movements, each of which bears a superscription:
Pan, who played upon the reed pipe which was Syrinx, his beloved.
Phaeton, who rode upon the chariot of the sun for one day and was hurled into the river Padus by a thunderbolt.
Niobe, who, lamenting the death of her fourteen children, was turned into a mountain.
Bacchus, at whose feasts is heard the noise of gaggling women's tattling tongues and shouting out of boys.
Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image and became a flower.
Arethusa, who, flying from the love of Alpheus the river god, was turned into a fountain.
Most of the six movements are marked by frequent pauses between phrases, denoted either by breath mark or fermata. A typical performance lasts between 10 and 15 minutes.
More pieces by Britten
- 'Four Sea Interludes', Peter Grimes
- The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra