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8.557559-60 - ENGLISH SONG
English 

An Anthology of English Song

Song, the combination of words and music, has taken highly characteristic forms in the various countries of the world, with the music shaped by the sounds of words, the particular linguistic patterns of vowels and consonants, and of grammar. The Lieder of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf have as distinct an identity as the chansons of French vocal tradition. English too boasts a long and distinctive tradition of song, of which the present anthology offers a recent conspectus, ranging from Stanford to Britten.

Charles Villiers Stanford was born in Dublin in 1852, but made his very successful career in England. Educated at Cambridge, he became professor of composition at the Royal College of Music in London when it was established in 1883 and four years later was able to combine this position with that of professor of music at Cambridge He exercised considerable influence as a composer and as a conductor, and, not least, as a teacher. The two songs by Stanford here included are settings of poems by the Irish writer Winifred Letts, Stanford's exact contemporary, who later settled in England. The second of the two, Irish Skies, compares England with Ireland, to the former's disadvantage. Stanford's settings date from 1914.

Liza Lehmann was the eldest daughter of the painter Rudolf Lehmann and his wife Amelia, daughter of the Edinburgh publisher and writer Robert Chambers. Rudolf Lehmann, who later settled with his family in England, was born in Hamburg and was himself the son of a German painter and his Italian wife. Christened Elisabetha Nina Mary Frederica, Liza Lehmann was born in London, to ensure British nationality if the child had been a boy, although the Lehmanns were living at the time in Rome. Rudolf Lehmann was distinguished in the artists' colony there, his friends including Liszt. On settling in London the family continued to move in established social and artistic circles, with Rudolf Lehmann enjoying a very considerable reputation as a portrait painter. Liza Lehmann was encouraged in her obvious musical interests by her mother, and was able to benefit as a singer from the help of Jenny Lind, while acquiring some ability as a pianist. She had lessons in composition in Rome, in Germany and, later, in London. She enjoyed a considerable reputation as a singer before her marriage, later concentrating on composition. Her arrangement of Charles Edward Horn's popular Cherry Ripe is followed by Mustard and Cress from a light-hearted cycle of songs, The Daisy- Chain. The poignant Lily of a Day, a setting of a poem by Ben Jonson, is dedicated to the memory of her eldest son, who died in the war of 1914-1918. The mood is lightened by the mock-serious setting of one of Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales recounting the sad fate of Henry King.

The English composer Arthur Somervell was knighted in 1929, in recognition of his services as Inspector of Music to the Board of Education. His interest in education had, by then, distracted his attention from composition, for which he had shown considerable early ability. Born at Windermere in 1863, he studied at King's College, Cambridge, where he was a pupil of Stanford, and subsequently in Berlin, before entering the Royal College in London, where he was later a pupil of Hubert Parry .From 1894 he taught at the College. For his songs Somervell chose a wide variety of texts, with settings of poems from Shakespeare to Browning and Housman. The anonymous poem Fain would I change that note was published in 1935. It is followed by two songs from his cycle drawn from A.E.Housman's A Shropshire Lad, perhaps Somervell's most successful work. From Robert Browning's James Lee's Wife comes Among the Rocks, in which the woman proclaims her sad message that If you loved only what were worth your love, / Love were clear gain. the five poems set by Somervell originally had orchestral accompaniment, but were later arranged for the accomapniment of a piano quintet.

Ralph Vaughan Williams was born in the Gloucestershire village of Down Ampney in 1872, the son of a clergyman. His ancestry on both his father's and mother's side was of some intellectual distinction His father was descended from a family eminent in the law, while his maternal grandfather was a Wedgwood and his grandmother a Darwin. On the death of his father in 1875 the family moved to live with his mother's father at Leith Hill Place in Surrey. As a child Vaughan Williams learned the piano and the violin and received a conventional education at Charterhouse, after which he delayed entry to Cambridge, preferring instead to study at the Royal College of Music, where his teachers included Hubert Parry and Walter Parratt, later Master of the Queen's Musick, both soon to be knighted. In 1892 he took up his place at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read history, but took composition lessons from Charles Wood. After graduation in both history and music, he returned to the Royal College, where he studied composition with Stanford, and, perhaps more significant, became a friend of a fellow-student, Gustav Hoist. The friendship with Hoist was to prove of great importance in frank exchanges of views on one another's compositions in the years that followed. He studied briefly with Max Bruch in Berlin, and later with Ravel. In England, however, he turned his attention to the collection of folk-music in various regions of the country , an interest that materially influenced the shape of his musical language. After war service Vaughan Williams returned to the Royal College of Music, now as a professor of composition, a position he retained until 1938. In these years he came to occupy a commanding position in the musical life of the country, with a series of compositions that seemed essentially English, the apparent successor of Elgar, although his musical language was markedly different. The maturer songs of Vaughan Williams span a period from the 1890s until the end of his life. His setting of It was a lover and his lass from Shakespeare's As You Like It, with its running accompaniment, was written in 1922 and is for two voices, as in the play itself, where it is sung by two of the banished duke's pages.

The Watermill, with its mill-wheel turning in the piano accompaniment, is one of four settings of poems by Fredegond Shove, one of Adeline's bridesmaids at her wedding. The songs were written in 1922 and first performed three years later. The song-cycle On Wenlock Edge was completed in 1909, a setting of six poems by A. E. Housman for tenor, piano, and string quartet. The cycle was later arranged for tenor and orchestra. The work was first performed in London at the Aeolian Hall in November, with the tenor Gervase Elwes. The first of the set is included here. Although Vaughan Williams, in spite of his early family background, was an agnostic, this did not prevent his effective settings of verse of overt religious inspiration. His Five Mystical Songs, settings of poems by George Herbert, were written in 19]1, and first heard in that year at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester. As elsewhere, the composer responds to the words, evoking their devotional spirit in holy simplicity and with an inner understanding, a foretaste of work to come. The group of songs by Vaughan Williams ends with Silent Noon, written in 1903 and included in the 1904 cycle of six settings of poems by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Among the most effective of his songs, Silent Noon evokes countryside in summer.

The English composer Gustav Holst was the son of a musician and descended from a family of mixed Scandinavian, German and Russian origin that had settled in England in the early nineteenth century .His childhood was spent in Cheltenham, where his father supervised his study of the piano. A later period at the Royal College of Music in London brought a lasting friendship with Ralph Vaughan Williams, an association that was to the advantage of both in their free criticism and discussion of one another's compositions. It was in part a weakness in health, as well as financial necessity, that prompted HoIst for a time to earn his living as a trombonist, touring with the Carl Rosa Opera Company and playing with the Scottish Orchestra. Eventually he decided to devote himself, as far as possible, to composition. Teaching positions, and particularly his long association with St Paul's Girls' School in Hammersmith, and his work as director of music for the enthusiastic amateurs at Morley College, allowed him some time, at least in the summer holidays, but the relatively even tenor of his life, which suited his diffident character, was considerably disturbed by the great popular success of The Planets, which had its first complete public performance in 1920. His later music never achieved such a lasting triumph with the public.

In 1929, after a winter holiday of three months in Italy that did something to restore his strength and spirits, Hoist set a group of twelve poems by Humbert Wolfe, whose work he had discovered two years earlier. A meeting with the poet brought friendship, as they shared a number of interests, including a love of the peace that parts of London can bring. The first performance of the songs was given in Paris by Dorothy Silk in a private concert at the house of Louise Dyer, the founder of Editions de l'Oiseau Lyre. In February 1930 Dorothy Silk sang them at the Wigmore Hall in London The songs came after a gap of twelve years in such compositions and were the last Hoist wrote. Now in these fairylands is marked by a descending melody, while The dream-city reflects the poet's and composer's shared love of the serenity to be found in London squares, away from the crowd, in the changing seasons. The gently lyrical Margrete's Cradle Song, a setting of a translation of Ibsen, was written in 1896 and is one of a set of four songs. It was composed at a time when Hoist had found a particular enthusiasm for the plays of Ibsen. The heart worships was written in 1907, its vocal melody accompanied by a series of repeated chords and breathing an air of utter tranquillity and peace.

Roger Quilter was born in Hove in 1877 into comfortable family circumstances. His father was Sir Cuthbert Quilter, who in 1881 founded the National Telephone Company and was for twenty years Liberal- Unionist Member of Parliament for the Suffolk constituency of Sudbury. His early years were spent largely at the family's country house, Bawdsey Manor, near the Suffolk town of Felixstowe. Quilter, who later seemed slightly embarrassed by his background, had his education at a private school in Farnborough and then at Eton. In 1893, having decided to become a musician, he began a period of four and a half years at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, where he was a pupil of Iwan Knorr and the piano teacher Ernst Engesser. It was perhaps the latter, with his interest in French song, who influenced the future direction of Quilter's talents as a composer. His contemporaries in Frankfurt included Cyril Scott, Percy Grainger, Balfour Gardiner and Norman O'Neill, and the Frankfurt Five formed a group of friends both there and in later life. Returning to England in 1898, Quilter quickly became known to the London public for his songs, which were taken up by leading performers of the day. Take, O rake those lips away, taken from Measure for Measure, is one of a set of five Shakespeare settings published in 1921. The 1904 setting of Tennyson's Now sleeps the crimson petal takes verses from a song in the poet's The Princess. Love calls through the summer night sets words by the writer Rodney Bennett, father of the composer Richard Rodney Bennett, a writer whose name was once often heard, not least in his writing for children. Bennett collaborated with Quilter in assembling texts for The Arnold Book of Old Songs and in the 19361ight opera, first staged at Covent Garden as Julia, for which he provided the lyrics. Quilter's Three Pastoral Songs set verses by a contemporary Irish poet, Joseph Campbell. This dates from 1921 and was designed originally for low voice and piano trio. It includes I will go with my father a-ploughing, also set by Ivor Gurney.

Known equally for his eccentricity as for his diverse artistic abilities, Lord Berners, as a composer, even won the respect of Stravinsky, who claimed him as the most interesting English composer of the time, perhaps with a glance towards more formidable English rivals. Berners was also a writer and a painter. He wrote The Triumph of Neptune for Dyagilev's Ballets Russes, Luna Park for a C.B.Cochran revue and A Wedding Bouquet for Sadler's Wells, while his first direct involvement with the theatre had come in 1924 with his light-hearted operatic version of Prosper Mérimée's Le carrosse du Saint Sacrement. His writing included two volumes of witty autobiography and novels, romans à clé, that provoked accusations of libel. His 1921 group of Three Songs, two sea shanties and a setting of a poem by John Masefield , all with their own characteristic twists of harmony.

The English composer Arnold Bax found himself, early in his career, drawn to Ireland and things Irish, even adopting an Irish pseudonym for his writings. The son of cultured and well-to-do English parents, he was born in Streatham but spent much of his childhood in Hampstead, where the family later settled, taught at home by a private tutor and strongly influenced by the cultured and comfortable environment in which he found himself. His early interest in music persuaded his father to allow him to enter the Royal Academy of Music in London at the age of seventeen. The 1920s seem to have brought Bax his period of greatest success. He was prolific in his creativity and his works were widely performed and in the following decade there were public honours and finally appointment as Master of the King's Musick, although his gifts did not lend themselves easily to the composition of the occasional celebratory works that the position seemed to demand. His arrangement of the traditional song Oh dear, what can the matter be? was made in 1918.

Eric Coates won an outstanding reputation as a composer of light music. Born in Nottinghamshire, he entered the Royal Academy of Music in London at the age of twenty, studying the viola with Lionel Tertis and composition with Frederick Corder. His early career was as a viola-player, a member of the Hambourg Quartet, and then of Sir Thomas Beecham's orchestra, before becoming leader of the viola section in Henry Wood's Queens Hall Orchestra. From 1919 he devoted his attentions to composition, at first with a series of songs, a prelude to orchestral compositions that became and remain familiar to British audiences, works such as Knightsbridge from his London Suite, A Sleepy Lagoon and his Dam Busters March. The Grenadier, written in 1913, is a character song, as is the little romance Betty and Johnny, both with words by Fred E. Weatherly. The Young Lover, with words by Royden Barrie, dates from 1930, and the energetic setting of Winifred May's Rise up and reach the stars from 1933.

A product of Winchester and Cambridge, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs avoided involvement with the family soap firm to become a schoolmaster, before turning to composition, an art he studied under Vaughan Williams at the Royal College in London, where he later taught. His compositions include a large number of songs and choral works. The first includes The Bells, a 1918 setting of a poem by Walter de la Mare, with whom he was to collaborate the following year in a school production of Crossings, from which the song Ann's Cradle Song is taken. As flay in the early sun, written in 1920, is one of a group of three settings of poems by E.Shanks, The Cherry Tree of 1949 sets a poem by M.Rose and Dusk dates from 1938.

In a letter of 1919 to Bernard van Dieren, a composer whom he greatly admired, Philip Heseltine explained how he had submitted a group of songs to the publisher Winthrop Rogers under the pseudonym of Peter Warlock, having failed to find a publisher under his own name. The ruse was soon revealed, but not before distinguished singers of the time had started to take an interest in them. Born in London in 1894, Heseltine had been encouraged in his musical enthusiasms during his time at school, latterly at Eton. There followed an introduction to Delius, who continued to show an interest in his work, and after study in Germany and a year at Oxford reading Classics, he turned his attention to the study of earlier English music, although himself without formal musical training. As a pacifist, in any case medically unfit for military service, he spent the war years in Cornwall and then in Ireland, before returning to London, the centre of his later activities, broken by a period with his mother in Wales and a time in Kent. A certain instability of character, evident, perhaps, in the dual Heseltine/Warlock identities, has been attributed in part to the early death of his father in 1896. Peter Warlock died in December 1930 of gas poisoning, whether by accident or suicide. Peter Warlock's Fancy, written in 1924, is a drinking-song, and The frostbound wood, a setting of words by Warlock's friend Bruce Blunt, was written in 1929 for issue with The Radio Times.

Two sets of so-called Peterisms were written in 1922. The three songs of the first group are settings of verses by George Peele, John Fletcher and possibly by John Skelton. The lively first song, Chopcherry, a reference to the game of catching in the mouth a hanging cherry , in the manner of bob-apple, is in great contrast with A Sad Song from The Maid's Tragedy, the mood broken by the vigorous popular sixteenth-century Rutterkin.

Bethlehem Down, with words again by Blunt, appeared first as a part-song, a Christmas supplement to the Daily Telegraph in 1927, reworked as a solo song in 1930.

William Walton occupies his own position in English music of the twentieth century , chronologically between the generation of Gustav Hoist and Vaughan Williams and that of Benjamin Britten. Born in Oldham in 1902, the son of a local singing teacher and choirmaster, he became a chorister at Christ Church, Oxford, and followed this with admission to the university at the early age of sixteen, with support from the college. His Oxford career brought success in music but failure in the necessary academic tests to allow him a degree. At the same time his friendship with Sacheverell Sitwell led to his adoption by the three Sitwell children, Osbert, Edith and Sacheverell, as an honorary brother. The practical help of the Sitwells and the musical and cultural influences of their circle allowed him to devote his attention to composition in the years after he left Oxford, followed by increasing independence, as he won a wider reputation for himself. In the years after 1945 he was to some extent eclipsed by Britten, whose facility he lacked and whose contemporary achievement now seemed to go beyond Walton's successes of the 1930s. Christopher Hassall chose the six poems used in A Song for the Lord Mayor's Table, commissioned for the 1962 City of London Music Festival. The third song of the cycle, Wapping Old Stairs, is a lilting setting of an anonymous protestation of faithfulness in spite of everything. In the years between the wars Walton won a succès de scandale with Façade, a collaboration with Edith Sitwell that amused the cognoscenti and shocked wider audiences, before winning an assured if minor position in twentieth century repertoire in its final form, whether as a ballet or in the concert-hall. Façade, the poems by Edith Sitwell recited with a musical accompaniment, was first heard in a private concert in the drawing-room of the Sitwells' London house in January 1922 and created something of a sensation at its public airing at the Aeolian Hall the following year. The work grew and changed, as items were removed and added, reaching a final revision in the 1940s, for eventual publication in 1951. Christopher Palmer transcribed three of the items for singer and piano, the original declamation replaced by a vocal line derived from the instrumental score. Long steel grass (Noche espagnola), which for a time became Trio for Two Cats and a Trombone, is followed by the Tango-Pasodoble, with its transformation of 1 do like to be beside the seaside. The well known Popular Song ends the group. Beatriz's Song was written in 1942 as part of the incidental music for Louis MacNeice's radio play Christopher Columbus, scored for voice and strings, the accompaniment later arranged for piano by Christopher Palmer. The song has a particular charm, so that it is difficult to understand the composer's reluctance to have it published, as it eventually was in 1974.

Lennox Berkeley was encouraged by Ravel to become a pupil of Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and French influence, in part inherited from his mother's family, remained strong. His meeting in Barcelona in 1936 with Benjamin Brit ten, ten years his junior, led to a joint composition and a lasting friendship. Both composers represented a wider musical perspective than many of their older contemporaries in England. Berkeley was influential as a teacher, and his association with the Aldeburgh Festival and the English Opera Group proved fruitful. His compositions include operas, orchestral and choral works, chamber music and a series of songs. His setting of Loy your sleeping head, my love, a poem dedicated to Brit ten by W .H.Auden, a contemporary of Berkeleys's at Oxford, is also dedicated to Britten and dates from 1939-40.

Benjamin Brit ten has occupied an unrivalled position in English music of the twentieth century , and a place of great importance in the wider musical world. Avoiding the trap offered by musical nationalism and the insular debt to folk-music of older contemporaries, he profited from that tradition in a more comprehensive European context, following a path in part mapped out by Mahler. He had a special gift for word-setting and vocal writing, a facility that Purcell had shown and that was the foundation of a remarkable series of operas that brought English opera for the first time into standard international operatic repertoire. Tonal in his musical language, he knew well how to use inventively, imaginatively and, above all, musically, techniques that in the hands of some others often appeared arid. He owed much to the friendship and constant companionship of the tenor Peter Pears, for whom Britten wrote many of his principal operatic roles and songs. In adolescence a pupil of Frank Bridge, after a brief period in the United States, Britten settled again in his native East Anglia, his home for the rest of his life. Early One Morning and The foggy, foggy dew are folk- song arrangements, followed here by Now the leaves are falling fast is included in the collection of Auden settings On This Island, Brit ten's first published group of songs with piano, written in 1937. He had met Auden when they collaborated in documentaries for the G.P.O. Film Unit in 1935. Auden's influence remained strong, with various collaborations, but much reduced after Brit ten's return to England in 1942. Tell me the truth about love, again a setting of Auden, continued the association when both of them were in North America in 1938. It was published posthumously in 1980 as the first of Four Cabaret Songs. The eight settings of Thomas Hardy, Winter Words, Op52, were written in 1953. Among the most effective of the cycle is The Choirmaster's Burial, with the old man's request denied by a modernising vicar, but his favourite hymn transformed in conclusion.

Keith Anderson


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