As I’ve said before on this blog, I often get up very early. This week -as I often do- I’ve been searching the BBC iPlayer archives. My latest find has been the masterclasses given by the guitarist Julian Bream in 1978. One of them was devoted to the piece Benjamin Britten wrote for him: the Nocturnal after John Dowland Opus 70. It’s a piece I’ve really taken to as a result of watching the programme. The older I get, the more I seem to “get” Britten’s music and this piece brings together three things that interest me: Britten, the music of John Dowland and the nature of sleep.
With regard to the first, as with so much of Britten, I can’t help but hear the sea in this music – and the sea with its uniformity, its waves, its disturbances, has a fascinating imaginative relationship with sleep. As for the music of John Dowland, its emotional impulse runs as an undercurrent through the whole work. It’s easy to fall in love with Dowland’s music, as I did when I first found myself playing his Lachrimae pieces. The Nocturnal is a set of variations on a Dowland song, Come, Heavy Sleep which we hear played on the guitar at the end of the work.
For anyone with the time and the staying-power, here’s the masterclass he gave on the work. After it, I’ve embedded the first of a series of shorter video of Julian Bream performing it: