Parry to Finzi: Twenty English Song-Composers

Parry to Finzi: Twenty English Song-Composers

Parry to Finzi: Twenty English Song-Composers

Parry to Finzi: Twenty English Song-Composers


Hold brings a composer's sensibility to his task, notably in his analytical discussion, and fully understands the nature of the marriage effected, and the difficulties involved, in the song-composer's art of blending poetry with music. He is a real companion on his reader's journey of discovery... The text (is) unfailingly readable and astute in judgement. JOHN TALBOT, BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY NEWSLETTER The composers in this book represent the outstanding songwriters from what we can now see as the golden age of English romantic song. As well as the major figures - Parry, Stanford, Vaughan Williams, Quilter, Ireland, Gurney, Warlock and Finzi - there are chapters on lesser-known composers, such as Denis Browne and Charles Orr. Detailed consideration is given to three song-writers who have suffered unaccountable neglect, Arthur Somervell, Armstrong Gibbs and Herbert Howells, and there are chapters on Elgar, Delius and Holst, whose reputations were made in other fields but whose contribution to English song is nevertheless important. Also taking their rightful places in the book are Frank Bridge, Arnold Bax, George Butterworth and E.J. Moeran.Each chapter begins with a discussion of its composer's song-output and of the poets and poetry he sets, and goes on to give an account of the influences on him and the hallmarks of his style; the songs are then discussed in detail, focusing on the major works. The text is illustrated with musical examples and there is a comprehensive bibliography and index.TREVOR HOLD is a noted composer and poet who was born and bred in Northamptonshire, where he still lives. He was staff tutor in music in the Department of Adult Education at the University of Leicester between 1970 and 1989, and has written extensively on English song. His setting of Laurie Lee's 'Day of these Days' won the English Poetry and Song Society/English Music Society 2002 Golden Jubilee Song Competition.


I would rather spend my life trying to achieve one book of little songs
that shall have a lasting fragrance, than pile up tome upon tome on
the dusty shelves of the British Museum.

Peter Warlock: letter to Bernard van Dieren, 14 January 1920

Hilaire Belloc ended his essay ‘On Song’ with the words: ‘It is the best of all trades to make songs’, going on to say ‘and the second best to sing them’ (On Everything, 1909). Though not wishing to belittle the role of the singer, I think Belloc got the matter the right way round. and he should know: he was, after all, an enthusiastic singer himself, as well as being a ‘maker’. (Someone has to ‘make’ the song before another can sing it.) in the time of Campion it was possible, in theory, for a song to be written, words and music, and performed, singer and lute, by one person. the days of the singer-songwriter, in the artsong at least, are long gone; the genre has become far too refined and sophisticated. None of the twenty song-composers covered in this study was a professional singer in as much as he performed his songs in public, though one or two – Bax, Quilter, Bridge, Browne – were capable enough as pianists to accompany singers in recitals. Likewise, 400 years ago, it was not uncommon for the composer to be the poet too. With the exception of Ivor Gurney – an outstanding exception – none of the composers included in this book were practising poets. Even Gurney himself kept the two arts separate; ‘Severn meadows’ is the only published song for which he wrote both words and music. Thus, today, we need two independent artists to ‘make’ a song – poet and composer – and two more – singer and accompanist – to perform it.

At the time of the first great flowering of English Song in the late 16th century, even if the composer didn’t write his own texts then at least he knew the requirements of words-for-music. Conversely, Shakespeare, who was no musician as far as we know, could fashion lyrics ‘apt’ for musical setting, having learned the skill (as all lyric-writers should) by the art of contrafactum: writing new words to existing tunes. Sadly this accomplishment has been all but forgotten by ‘serious’ poets in the last 200 years, and few poets today understand the craft of the composer, or vice versa. the resulting rift between poet and composer has created many problems. Because poets do not write words for musical setting, composers tend to choose their lyrics ‘off-the-peg’ . . .

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