The prologue and epilogue which frame the songs are both performed by the horn alone, and in these movements Britten instructs the player to use only the horn's natural harmonics; this lends these short movements a distinctive character as some harmonics sound sharp or flat to an audience accustomed to the western chromatic scale. The epilogue is to sound from afar, and to this end the final song does not include a part for the horn to allow the player to move off-stage.
The piece has become a central work in both tenor and horn repertoire. Britten's lifelong companion Peter Pears was the tenor in the first performances, and they recorded it together more than once.
More pieces by Britten
- 'Four Sea Interludes', Peter Grimes
- The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra