"To Be Sung Upon the Water" (Barcarolles and Nocturnes for High Voice, Piano and Clarinet) is a work in praise of nature. The work is also intended to be a tribute to Franz Schubert, a fellow-admirer of ponds, millwhells, streams, trout, swans and other aquatic phenomena, the tribute acknowledged not only in the title of this cycle (one measure of Schubert's AUF DEM WASSER ZU SINGEN is "borrowed" to set the text: The image of a poet's heart), but in the instrumental similarity to his SHEPHERD ON THE ROCK as well.
The "Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo", Op.22, written for Peter Pears, were composed in 1940 while Britten was in America. Departing from his earlier settings of English texts, he undertook certain continental stylizations, broadening, through the use of this continental idiom, his own distinctive style. The sonnets, therefore, are the most fully realized of the European and Italian character and are recognized as the "songs in which he seems to come to maturity as a song composer." The Michelangelo Sonnets all deal with love, the lover and his beloved. In Britten's extremely sensitive settings they cover the gamut of contrasting moods, varying tempi, alternating keys. As Ernest Newman wrote after their first performance. "They are striking and varied in this expressive quality."