About this Recording
8.557116 - QUILTER: Songs (English Song, Vol. 5)

Roger Quilter (1877-1953)

Roger Quilter (1877-1953)



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, although Grainger had reservations about O’Neill, a musician who made his later career chiefly in the theatre, for which he provided a quantity of incidental music.


Returning to England in 1898, Quilter quickly became known to the London public for his songs. His Four Songs of the Sea, settings of his own verses, were heard at the Crystal Palace in 1900, sung by Denham Price. He was to owe much to Gervase Elwes, who sang To Julia in 1905, and persuaded Boosey & Co. to publish the cycle. Other singers were to follow the example of Elwes, and Quilter’s songs were performed by singers such as John Coates, Muriel Foster, Ada Crossley, and Harry Plunket Green. His work was even taken up by Melba, Clara Butt and Maggie Teyte, while Quilter himself appeared as accompanist to his friend Mark Raphael. The many songs Quilter wrote during the course of some forty years form an important element in English song repertoire of the first half of the twentieth century, characteristic both of their period and of romantic English song. He also wrote instrumental music, for orchestra or for smaller ensembles, and his A Children’s Overture, with its well-known and skilfully deployed melodic material, remains in occasional orchestral repertoire.


 Quilter’s health gave frequent cause for anxiety over the years. He suffered from bouts of depression and found his homosexuality, necessarily concealed as far as possible, a continuing burden. He was generous in his support of fellow musicians, not least to Percy Grainger, many of whose compositions he had published at his own expense, and after the tragic death of Gervase Elwes during an American tour, supported the foundation in 1921 of the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund. His final years were clouded by mental illness and he died in 1953.


The present collection of Quilter’s songs starts with It was a lover and his lass [1], from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, one of a set of five Shakespeare settings published in 1921. Originally conceived as a duet, as in the original play, it is more widely known as a solo song. From the same group comes Take, O take those lips away [2], taken from Measure for Measure. An earlier group of three Shakespeare songs was published in 1905 and includes O Mistress mine [3] from Twelfth Night, while the moving How should I your true love know [4] is a setting of Ophelia’s song from Hamlet. It was published as one of a set of four Shakespeare songs in 1933. Orpheus with his lute [5] from Henry VIII, attributed to Fletcher in that collaborative play, appeared in 1939. This is here followed by Hark! Hark, the lark [6], a setting from 1946 of words from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.


Ca’ the yowes [7] and Ye banks and braes [9] are arrangements of traditional songs, published in 1947 in The Arnold Book of Old Songs, which also includes Charlie is my darling [8], with its nod to Scottish musical activities.


Quilter shared with other English composers a wide knowledge of the literature of his country, a source of continuing inspiration. His Shelley setting I arise from dreams of thee [10] was originally conceived for tenor and orchestra and so performed in 1929 by Mark Raphael at the Harrogate Festival. Other Shelley settings include Love’s Philosophy [12] from 1905 and Music when soft voices die [11], written in 1927.


Spring is at the door [13] is one of three settings of less distinguished verses by Nora Hopper and dates from 1914. It is succeeded here by a setting of Ernest Dowson’s nostalgic Passing Dreams [14], one of a 1908 set of Dowson settings, Four Songs of Sorrow. Settings of Arthur Maquarie’s Autumn Evening [15] and W.E.Henley’s A last year’s rose [21] come from a set of four songs dating from 1910. The 1924 I sing of a maiden [16], returns to the fifteenth century carol familiar in Peter Warlock’s setting and in Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols.


Quilter’s Three Pastoral Songs set verses by a contemporary Irish poet, Joseph Campbell. It dates from 1921 and was designed originally for low voice and piano trio. I will go with my father a-ploughing [17], also set by Ivor Gurney, is followed by Cherry Valley [18] and I wish and I wish [19].


Go, lovely rose [20], a fine setting of a poem by the royalist seventeenth-century poet Edmund Waller, was written in 1923. With Amaryllis at the fountain [22], written in 1914, comes a setting of an anonymous sixteenth-century pastoral poem, while the 1926 I dare not ask a kiss [23] is taken from Five Jacobean Lyrics, a setting of words by his continuing source of inspiration, Robert Herrick. The 1904 setting of Tennyson’s Now sleeps the crimson petal ¢ takes verses from a song in the poet’s The Princess.


The cycle of songs To Julia sets poems taken from Herrick’s Hesperides. The poet and his beloved Julia are heard in motifs in the Prelude [24], leading to the lively The Bracelet [25], and tender love-songs, The Maiden Blush [26] and the very well-known To Daisies [27]. The Night Piece [28] returns to a livelier mood, contrasted with the gentler mood of Julia’s Hair [29]. There is a brief Interlude ⁄, after which the cycle ends with Cherry Ripe [30]. Dating from 1906, the songs were later arranged for instrumental accompaniment, the version here recorded. The work is Quilter’s only song cycle, unified in conception and by its related use of recurring motifs.


The last song included here is a setting of Love calls through the summer night [31] 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 1936 light opera, first staged at Covent Garden as Julia, for which he provided the lyrics. The work was revised, appearing under various titles, including, in 1940, that of Rosmé, from which this song is taken, a light-hearted conclusion to the present recording.


Keith Anderson

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