About this Recording
8.557495 - QUILTER: Folk-Song Arrangements / Part-Songs for Women's Voices (Complete) (English Song, Vol. 11)

Roger Quilter (1877-1953)
Complete Folk-Song Arrangements
Complete Part-Songs for Women’s Voices
Three Songs from ‘Love at the Inn’

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it seemed that every English composer wrote songs, and the result was a particularly rich musical legacy. Parry, Stanford, M.V. White, Elgar, Woodforde-Finden, Lehmann, Somervell, Vaughan Williams, Quilter, Ireland, Bax, Butterworth, Gurney, Howells, and Warlock were but a handful of those who, whether or not song-writing was their normal métier, made memorable contributions to the art-song repertoire. There are those who disparage the composer who only writes songs, and does not attempt large-scale works, but this ignores the special gift of writing the miniature, a form in which everything is exposed and in which every detail matters. It was a form in which Roger Quilter excelled and for which he is best known: his songs, rooted in the sound of the Victorian drawing-room ballad, are elegant, refined, often private, always exquisite.

Quilter was born in 1877 into a wealthy upperclass family. His father, Sir Cuthbert Quilter, had an 8,000 acre estate at Bawdsey in Suffolk, and took the attitude, usual for the time, of regarding music as merely a fashionable accomplishment. As a young man, Quilter himself to an extent lived the life of a typical Edwardian gentleman, visiting friends and social acquaintances at their country houses, and sightseeing around Europe. In spite of his father’s disapproval, however, he determined to go his own way, and a year or so after leaving Eton, he went to the Frankfurt Conservatory to study the piano. He also began to study composition privately with Ivan Knorr, who taught many of the English-speaking students, amongst them Cyril Scott, Balfour Gardiner, Norman O’Neill and Percy Grainger; the five together became known as the Frankfurt Group, an informal group of like-minded composers. Quilter found Knorr a hard task-master, but was grateful for the rigorous training, and his earliest songs were published in 1897, while still at Frankfurt.

Quilter did not draw on English folk-song as a musical resource in the way that Vaughan Williams and others did, but he was very well aware of the heritage, and said, of setting folk-songs, that it is ‘one of the most delicate and dangerous undertakings: but occasionally people have a genius for it, such as Percy Grainger’: he had great admiration for his friend’s ability to do so. Despite the danger, he himself arranged a variety of songs, calling them ‘old popular songs’ or just ‘old songs’; he had a way of presenting them simply and without undue embellishment, but with inimitably Quilter-esque accompaniments. Five, dedicated to singers and friends, were published in 1921, Drink to me only, Over the Mountains, Barbara Allen, Three Poor Mariners and The Jolly Miller. Many years later he began working on more arrangements for his favourite nephew, Arnold Vivian, his sister Norah’s son, who often sang his songs and whose gentle personality was much in sympathy with his own. When Arnold went to serve with the Grenadier Guards in 1942, Quilter began to compile sixteen songs, including the five from 1921, into an album for him to sing on his return. In 1943 Arnold was captured in Tunisia, and a few months later he and his friend, Lord Brabourne, escaped from a train while being transported to Germany from an Italian prisonerof- war camp; on being recaptured, they were immediately executed. The news did not reach Quilter until after the war had ended; it completely devastated him, and the album, The Arnold Book of Old Songs, thus became an epitaph, each song dedicated to Arnold’s memory.

The Arnold Book assembles English, Scottish, Irish, French and Welsh songs, the countries providing the framework for the programme on this recording. The songs range from the dramatic, the descriptive (as in the piano mimicking the pipe and drone in Charlie is my Darling), and the hearty and rollicking, to the fickle, the delicate (L’amour de moi, more delicate than Vaughan Williams’s setting), the wistful, and the poignant. In 1942 Quilter collaborated with the Irish poet John Irvine on a duet version of My Lady Greensleeves: it preceded his more familiar solo version and is the one heard here. In these extraordinarily inventive arrangements Quilter raises the artless simplicity of the originals to the level of art-song.

There were other arrangements besides those intended for Arnold: Quilter took Harry Burleigh’s arrangement of I got a robe and arranged it further for Marian Anderson, the black American contralto, for her début recital at the Wigmore Hall in London in 1928. Quilter’s voice, harp and string quartet arrangement of St Valentine’s Day, from d’Urfey’s Wit and Mirth, is now lost but his piano reduction survives. The Rose of Tralee is the well-known melody by C. W. Glover; and the manuscript of What will you do, love is marked ‘For Arnold’; to Samuel Lover’s melody there were originally three verses, but here Quilter simply, and tellingly, repeats the words of the first verse. It is a very personal setting, as is The Ash Grove, the last in the Arnold book, whose words are not the usual ones, but were specially written by Rodney Bennett, with whom Quilter collaborated on his light opera.

The original opera, The Blue Boar, was never performed in its entirety, though a shortened version was broadcast by the BBC in 1933. Little Moth and the waltz Love Calls through the Summer Night, its glorious Viennese lilt in the same vein as the waltz song from German’s Tom Jones, were both in it, and survived into the revised versions, Julia, performed in full in a short season at Covent Garden in 1936, and Love at the Inn, the only published version. If Love Should Pass me by, a sweetly melancholy song, was certainly in these two later versions. Quilter loved light music, music that simply entertained, and all three songs have a sure but delicate touch.

Quilter wrote part-songs throughout his life. Those for women’s voices (they are variously for two-part choirs or two single voices, and all are accompanied) date from his middle years onwards, and although unpretentious, they can be deceptive, an occasional sinister undercurrent in the text, as especially in The Passing Bell, giving an edge to what might otherwise seem superficial. The texts are usually by his contemporaries, but the words for Summer Sunset were Quilter’s own: Romney Marsh was a pseudonym, a private joke between him and Arnold, and My Heart Adorned with Thee, this one arranged specifically for a male and a female voice, from the solo song, uses Quilter’s translation of a text by Friedrich Bodenstedt who used the alias Mirza Schaffy. Four other duets were arranged from their solo versions: Weep You No More from Seven Elizabethan Lyrics, and Daisies after Rain, which have distinct differences from their originals, (and both versions of the latter are included here), Blossom-Time and Where go the Boats from Four Child Songs. It was a Lover and his Lass was first a duet, written for Lilian Baylis’s 1921 production of As You Like It at the Old Vic, and was then adapted as a solo song. All the songs are a delight, and some are particularly effective: Quilter’s sparkling setting of Windy Nights, for example, is arguably more vivid than Stanford’s better known version.

Many of these songs are unknown; they are innocent, and infused with freshness and beauty. Here at last is a chance to hear another aspect of Quilter’s inimitable art.

Valerie Langfield
Valerie Langfield is the author of Roger Quilter, his life and music (Boydell and Brewer, 2002)

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