A Swinburne song catalogue, a work in progress, and two Holy Grails

21Here is a catalogue of songs which were set to the lyrics of Swinburne and published between 1866-1920. It also lists a few important unpublished songs and some musical oddities and odds and ends that I’m not sure how to classify, but which I have included in the final pages. I’m making this available as I have now completed my PhD thesis: ‘Swinburne and Wagner: Poetry and Music’. This forms the third appendix of the thesis, although as the thesis was being written it often appeared to be what Swinburne might have called an ‘extraneous tail or fin stitched on’.[1] Not an essential part of the whole, the catalogue acted more as an accompaniment, definitely a prolongation, and perhaps an excursion into realms that a more sensible student might have visited later.

I started compiling this catalogue after reading T. S. Eliot’s chapter in The Sacred Wood (1920), called ‘Swinburne as Poet’. Here Eliot claims that the beauty of Swinburne’s verse and its effect of sound is ‘neither that of music nor that of poetry which can be set to music’, and, again, ‘what we get in Swinburne is an expression by sound, which could not possibly associate itself with music’.[2] Eliot makes several other denials about Swinburne’s musical suitability which I will not go into here, but these critical declarations acted as a sort of matador’s cloak and after reading them I was determined to charge Eliot down. By the end of an afternoon I had found several examples of Swinburne musical settings and before long I had well over a hundred items and so presented my findings at the 150th Poems and Ballads Conference at St John’s College in Cambridge in 2016. After this, I went on to write an article based on an earlier version of this list, which eventually appeared in the Journal of Victorian Culture as ‘Swinburne, Wagner, Eliot and the Musical Legacy of Poems and Ballads’.[3] Since its first presentation at St John’s, I have updated, revised, and altered the catalogue as more items have come to light or as I have got hold of pieces that have now proved to be of no interest.

This is a work in progress not a finale. If you happen to find any songs not given in this catalogue or discover an error, please don’t hesitate to contact me and I will update the catalogue and credit you accordingly. (I have included several American examples and some French and German songs, but there are bound to be more.) Additionally, should you wish to use this catalogue in your work, I would be grateful if you could give me credit. Compiling this list has cost a great deal of time, caused many fingernails to be bitten, exotic teas to be drunk, and quite a few trains to be caught – with necessary costs – in trying to track down tatty Victorian musical scores. A link or citation in recognition of this would be much appreciated.

Lastly, if you happen to come across two pieces set to the lyrics of Swinburne by Theophilus Marzials – other than Félise or Ask Nothing More – please immediately drop everything and get in touch. To me, these (if they were ever written) are the Victorian song equivalents of the Grail or the Ark of the Covenant. While I will not pay handsomely for their recovery, I may take you out for a drink or two.[4]

To download the catalogue: Swinburne song list 110820i


[1] Swinburne was referring to his additions to Alexander Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake: Pictor Ignotus (1863) but which later formed part of his own William Blake (1868). See The Swinburne Letters (hereafter TSL), ed. by Cecil Y. Lang, 6 vols. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1959-1962), I, 59.

[2] T. S. Eliot, ‘Swinburne as Poet’, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London: Methuen, 1980), pp. 144-150 (p. 146).

[3] In this article I tackle Eliot’s use of the word ‘beauty’ in his arguments concerning the unsuitability/impossibility of musical adaptation of the Swinburnian lyric, which I also do – at greater length – in the last chapter of my thesis.

[4] On 17 November 1876, Swinburne wrote to Edmund Gosse that ‘Marzials is most welcome to publish his music to (and with) any words of mine. What are his four chosen pieces? I should like to see and hear them’. I have only found two of these pieces so far. See TSL, III, 214.

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Original score for Marzials’s ‘Ask Nothing More’ (1883)

Click here for PDF versioon

Click the above picture for a PDF of the score

Here is an original score for Theophilus Marzials’s popular song ‘Ask Nothing More’ (1883). The words are from Swinburne’s poem ‘The Oblation’ (Songs Before Sunrise, 1871).

I played my own recording of this piece at the British Association of Decadent Studies conference, Aesthetic Time Decadent Archives, earlier this week. I also played Maytime in Midwinter by Mary Wakefield. Marzials dedicated Ask Nothing More to Wakefield.

You can hear the music to Ask Nothing More on an earlier post about Marzials and also hear his strange (but rather lovely) adaptation of  Swinburne’s ‘Félise’ (Poems and Ballads, 1866) by clicking the links here:

Ask Nothing More 



Screenshot 2019-07-20 at 11.12.04Just out of passing interest, here’s the original singer of Ask Nothing More and whose vocal talents helped sell Marzials’s song. His name appears at the top of the song’s title page: Francis Barrington Foote. A news-clipping from June 1899 has Barrington Foote singing Ask Nothing More at a ‘smoking’ concert in Lichfield. He was ‘in capital voice’ (despite his obvious liking for a cigarette). Apparently, several ladies were in the audience, having braved ‘the element of smoke’.


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Chewing Swinburne’s Thistles: Swinburne, Dannreuther, and Wagner’s ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’

I’m glad to say that my short article on Edward Dannreuther (1844-1905) and Swinburne has been published in Notes & Queries. It reveals two hitherto unnoticed references to Wagner by Swinburne in his 1869 essay, ‘Notes on the Text of Shelley’. It also demonstrates that Dannreuther, who hosted Wagner and acted as a rehearsal conductor during the 1877 Wagner festival at the Royal Albert Hall, was clearly influenced by the poet. Swinburne’s writings, therefore, had a significant impact on the reception of Wagner’s music in London in the early 1870s.


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‘The world, what is it to you, dear’: Mary Wakefield’s Maytime in Midwinter (1885)

On the afternoon of 13 March 1878 at a charity concert at the Palazzo Odescalchi in Rome, Mary Wakefield started to sing. In the audience was Anne Crawford, the Baroness von Rabe, who was amazed by her performance. It had an Orphic, divine intensity:

There is something Bacchante-like in her singing. She seems to pour out her voice as though it were a generous wine. […] We were all quite wild about her. […] All the sober, steady-going English people clapped and stamped for an encore to her Buononcini song – and I felt, in the perfect peace of listening to perfect singing, as though my weary journey were quite repaid. Her voice is marvellous in its wonderfully even quality. The notes linger on the air like the tones of a finely-vibrating stringed instrument.[1]

Augusta Mary Wakefield (1853-1910) was no longer a mere twenty-four-year-old woman on a holiday tour of Italy with her family. She was now a ‘glorious […] exuberant creature’, a sort of goddess or priestess of flesh and blood, able to arouse the normally staid expatriate audience through her ‘crowning gift’ of music.[2] While this might seem to be exaggerated, Crawford’s claim certainly substantiates the view of Wakefield’s contemporary biographer Rosa Newmarch, that the singer was touched by ‘the light of genius’.[3]


Augusta Mary Wakefield (1853-1910). All photographs are from my own collection

But this description of Wakefield, who appears both from Newmarch’s biography and from contemporary reports to have been a dynamic, energetic woman, contrasts greatly with the image presented in the photograph to the right. Here Wakefield is both a homely, but oddly-distant presence. The thick white cloud that she is hovering in, bodiless, sets her even further apart from us, as does her slight classical pose, in which she gazes across her shoulder to the distance, avoiding our eyes.

The photograph might well be a paradigm for the fate of many of the composers (particularly the women) who were adapting Swinburne’s lyrics for music in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Many of these composers are now ghosts, regardless of the extraordinary fame they commanded in their day. And despite the lack of celebrity aura in this photograph, Wakefield’s fame was indeed great, and not just because of her seductive voice. Two years after this concert in Rome, according to Newmarch, one of her songs, No Sir! (1880), became an extraordinary ‘hit’ which ‘carried her name practically all over the world in the course of a matter of months’.[4] Its follow up, Yes Sir!, appeared a year later, and was succeeded by dozens more songs, some of them collaborations with other popular composers of the day, including the eccentric Theophilus Marzials (1850-1920), who also adapted Swinburne’s poems to great acclaim, and whom she appears to have met while in Venice.[5] She also started a choral festival in Kendal (where the Wakefield family home, Sedgwick House, is situated) in 1885. This was part of Wakefield’s desire to encourage local, amateur music, she stated in an article for the Musical Times the year before, but what she actually had in mind was far more ambitious and radical. The festival, she hoped, would inspire a national movement, so that music would become ‘an integral part’ of the nation’s social life, for if ‘music as a serious art is ever to be appreciated and understood as it is in Germany, the formation of an educated, enlightened public is the first requisite’.[6] From its small beginnings in a tennis court at Sedgwick House, the festival grew year on year to host massed choirs, which would perform some of the greatest works in the choral repertoire, while she also encouraged the performance of the works of many contemporary composers such as Arthur Somervell (1863-1937), Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912).

Her work inspired similar events on a national scale. An ‘Association of Musical Competition Festivals’ was formed, which, according to the Musical Standard, spread the ‘festival movement […] over the whole country’. On her death on 16 September 1910, the association raised funds for a Mary Wakefield medal to be awarded as a trophy for the following year, ‘or permanently’, at all ‘affiliated competition centres’.[7] As can be seen from my own copy, the medal bore the image of Wakefield from the above photograph, a picture of a lyre set into a frieze of roses, and the words of Martin Luther: ‘Music is a fair and glorious gift from God’.

Extraordinarily, her festival is still taking place, now as the annual Mary Wakefield Westmoreland Festival. But despite this legacy, Wakefield’s contribution to the life and growth of English music at the turn of the century has been largely forgotten. As Philip Bullock has noted in his work on Rosa Newmarch, Wakefield still does not even have an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.[8] Despite the publication of her music and its financial rewards, Wakefield – as a woman – was never quite able to shake off the adjective ‘amateur’ in descriptions of her work, and perhaps this past attitude still causes her work to be less visible than it should be.

But what of the Swinburne connection? Because of her friendship with Marzials, who knew Swinburne, she may have known the poet personally.[9] However, there is an interesting literary connection that is worth exploring, and not least because it proves the existence of the seductive charm that the Baroness von Rabe found in Wakefield’s voice. The writer Vernon Lee (1856-1935) was introduced to Wakefield by the novelist Mrs Humphry Ward at some time in 1882 after Wakefield’s popular music success had already begun. As Catherine Maxwell has shown, Lee wrote and dedicated her short ghost story ‘A Wicked Voice’ (1887) to Wakefield, after spending some of the summer of 1886 with her at the Palazzo Barbaro in Venice.[10] While Lee initially appears to have been reticent, even caustic about Wakefield, describing her in a letter to her mother as ‘fat’ and ‘grotesque’, she did warm to her greatly, perhaps to the point of romantic and sexual interest. In a later letter, she states that Wakefield was ‘a strange puzzle to me, but attractive with the attractiveness of extreme individuality’ and sang ‘like four & twenty seraphs’.[11] Lee would later be romantically involved with Kit Anstruther-Thomson, whom I have mentioned in relation to performances of Swinburne’s play Atalanta in Calydon.


Note the banner above the stage, which shows the same text as the reverse of the Mary Wakefield medal

The dedication to ‘A Wicked Voice’ reads: ‘To M. W. | In remembrance of the last song at Palazzo Barbaro, | Chi ha inteso, intenda [Whoever has understood, let him understand].’[12] The story concerns a Norwegian composer in Venice called Magnus (it is interesting to note that Wakefield was a friend of the Norwegian composer Edvard Greig, whom she met in Rome). Magnus is haunted by the ghost of an eighteenth-century baroque castrati, Zaffirino, whose appearance is heard rather than seen. The songs that this ‘wicked voice’ sings, prevent Magnus from writing his (Wagnerian) opera ‘Ogier the Dane’. He does, however, see a portrait of Zaffirino, and describes his face as

effeminate, fat […] with an odd smile, brazen and cruel. I have seen faces like this, if not in real life, at least in my boyish romantic dreams, when I read Swinburne and Baudelaire, the faces of wicked, vindictive women.[13]

The tempting, but dangerous voice is that of a woman in a male body, and perhaps a lyrical body that speaks of sensual pleasures and of life and death. It is a Swinburneian voice of wicked beauty that sounds rather like the Baroness von Rabe’s description of Wakefield’s singing at the Palazzo Odescalchi in Rome at the concert a few years earlier.

Screenshot 2019-05-15 at 22.22.36

Click the above image for a pdf copy of the score

Wakefield’s adaptation of ‘Maytime in Midwinter’ (from Swinburne’s 1884 collection, A Midsummer Holiday and Other Poems) is dedicated to Marion Terry, the sister of the actress Ellen, although she was also an actress in her own right. Terry, Lee notes in various letters, was Wakefield’s constant companion, and, as Catherine Maxwell has suggested to me, it is possible that, as neither of them married, they were  lovers. Wakefield’s dedication to Terry is set above the song title on the frontispiece of Maytime in Midwinter and so the whole song could be read as being directed at her. Underneath the song title is the first line of Swinburne’s lyrics: ‘The world, what is it to you, dear?’, which signals the theme of the song: the world is nothing when set beside the physical being of both the narrator and her subject. However wintry the year might become, the lyrics claim, Terry’s form and face create the radiance of a spring season: her smile turns the sky blue, her laugh makes the month turn into May. On the first page of the score, underneath the title, there stands an enigmatic quotation from Shelley’s ‘When passion’s trance is overpast’ (1824): ‘Which move | And form all others, life and love’.[14]

Despite the epigraph’s melancholic tone, Wakefield’s adaptation is bright and cheering, and turns rhapsodic early on, to stay firmly in this voice towards a rousing finale. I would imagine that like her earlier No Sir! (which sold more than 2,000 copies) Wakefield wrote the song with a music hall audience in mind. Rosa Newmarch is perhaps a little disparaging when she writes of Wakefield’s ‘temptation’ to follow up the success of No Sir!, with the implication that such a style of music was beneath her actual powers. And she warns that with so many successes so early on (which include such frivolous-sounding titles as ‘A Bunch of Cowslips’, ‘The Children are a Singing’, ‘The Love that Goes a-Courting, and the like), ‘Mary Wakefield now stood in danger of becoming the mere spoilt child of society’, but adds, ‘fortunately for music in England, [Mary] was not of the stuff that triflers are made of’.[15]


The first two stanzas of the poem

Wakefield has turned Swinburne’s words into her own. The original poem is ten stanzas long, but she has used only three to create a romantic song. Originally, however, Swinburne did not intend his words to mean or become anything romantic. While Maytime in Midwinter certainly uses romantic tropes (the twittering of birds, ‘mist and storms receding’, etc) the ‘child’ he talks of in the second stanza (illustrated left, but not included by Wakefield), is both an actual child and a metaphorical one – in that the spring, in May, is a child, being the earliest of the four seasons. It could also be an internal child, as the child-like thoughts of spring awaken the narrator’s heart and cast away cares. Swinburne wrote extensively about babies and children (and sometimes with ladles of syrup), but here, in this more sober poem, the midwinter visitation of a child lifts his seasonal melancholy so that grief seems like madness, all sunk ships are restored, and even the harsh call of the raven is turned into the note of a lark. This child laughs without care, searching through Swinburne’s bookshelves with wonder, and becomes ‘spring’s self’ standing at his knee. Swinburne’s subject is probably Bertie Mason, who, with his mother Miranda, came to live in the same house as Swinburne in 1879 as a five-year-old. Swinburne doted on Bertie and wrote many poems about or related to him, including a sequence of poems written during Bertie’s month-long absence from the house in 1881 called ‘A Dark Month’, which was published in Tristram of Lyonesse and Other Poems the following year.


The opening of ‘A Dark Month’. Its reference to ‘May’ in the first stanza links it to ‘Maytime in Midwinter’.

By taking out the child-like vision of Swinburne’s lyrics, has Wakefield also removed their potential innocence? Or is it that the lyrics are meant to retain their innocence even if their subject is different, so that a reader might not guess the truth, perhaps? Whatever the intention, Wakefield’s song is rather lovely. She obviously thought highly of the work and wanted to be associated with it, as the Royal Academy of Music’s archives has a copy of a Wakefield musical signature that refers to this piece. It contains both the opening bars of the melody and Swinburne’s lyrics.

Click here for the full text of Swinburne’s Maytime in Midwinter.

At the end of this month, I will be presenting at Vernon Lee 2019: An Anniversary Conference in Florence.


[1] Rosa Newmarch, Mary Wakefield: A Memoir (Kendal: Atkinson and Pollitt, 1912), p. 36.

[2] The Baroness von Rabe was susceptible to the sensational, as the publication of her 1891 novella A Mystery of the Campagna suggests.

[3] Newmarch, Mary Wakefield, p. 9.

[4] Newmarch, Mary Wakefield, p. 42.

[5] Marzials dedicated his own song A Summer Shower (1881?) to Wakefield.

[6] Newmarch, Mary Wakefield, p. 79.

[7] ‘Memorial to Mary Wakefield’, Musical Standard, 4 February 1911, p. 68.

[8] Philip Ross Bullock, Rosa Newmarch and Russian Music in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century England (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 78.

[9] For example, see The Swinburne Letters, ed. Cecil Y. Lang, 6 Vols (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), II, 354.

[10] Catherine Maxwell, ‘Sappho, Mary Wakefield, and Vernon Lee’s “A Wicked Voice”’, Modern Language Review, Vol. 102, No. 4 (Oct. 2007), pp. 960-974.

[11] Maxwell, Modern Language Review, pp. 964, 966.

[12] Maxwell, Modern Language Review, p. 969.

[13] Vernon Lee, ‘A Wicked Voice’, in Hauntings and Other Fantastic Tales, ed. by Catherine Maxwell and Patricia Pulham(Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2006), pp. 154-81 (p. 162).

[14] ‘After the slumber of the year
The woodland violets reappear;
All things revive in field or grove,
And sky and sea, but two, which move
And form all others, life and love’.

[15] Newmarch, Mary Wakefield, pp. 43, 45.

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The Journal of Victorian Culture: Swinburne, Wagner, T. S. Eliot, and the musical legacy of ‘Poems and Ballads’

I’m very happy to report that my article, ‘Swinburne, Wagner, Eliot, and the Musical Legacy of Poems and Ballads, has been published by the Journal of Victorian Culture. The article links to the post below concerning Francis Hueffer, whom the article discusses, as well as the work of Adela Maddison.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 09.32.30


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Roses, pleasure, and pain: ‘A Match’ (1873) by Francis Hueffer

The following post is related to my article ‘Swinburne, Wagner, Eliot, and the Musical Legacy of Poems and Ballads in the Journal of Victorian Culture. In addition to the piece by Francis Hueffer below, if you want to hear the musical setting by Adela Maddison discussed in the article, please click the following link: The Triumph of Time.

Swinburne’s ‘A Match’, from his 1866 collection Poems and Ballads, has been set to music more often than any of his other poems. So far I have found 24 published versions (for between 1866 and 1920), one of which I have already discussed, by Louis Napoleon Parker. A reason for its popularity with composers may well be that ‘A Match’ was Swinburne’s most anthologised poem. However, it was also undoubtedly attractive to them for its short trimeter phrases (which play with a series of comparisons and contrasts) and its repetitions. These contrasts and repetitions set up a series of sound patterns across each stanza and the entire poem, which in itself moves in a musical process through a series of tightening moods from pleasure to pain and towards the kind of climax (again on a repetition) that music loves to perform. Additionally, the form of ‘A Match’ also perhaps demands to be set to music because of its origins in troubadour culture and Petrarchan poetic practice. As Katherine Williams has noted, the poem blends the triolet and the trimeter octave, forms that have much musical heritage. [1]

While the first stanza opens with a common poetic symbol of the rose as love – ‘If love were what the rose is | And I were like the leaf’ (though the conditional grammar suggests doubt while the contrasted images blur into each other) – by the end of the poem love has been transformed into the ‘queen of pleasure’ with the self now as the ‘king of pain’. There’s a sado-masochistic need for control and submission:

If you were queen of pleasure,
And I were king of pain,
We’d hunt down love together,
Pluck out his flying-feather,
And teach his feet a measure,
And find his mouth a rein;
If you were queen of pleasure,
And I were king of pain.

As I say, the six stanzas of the poem tighten their metaphors and similes as they go on, so it feels as if the subject and object are being taken through a series of mood changes, which, in a preface to his own version, Francis Hueffer (1845-1889) likened to a musical process itself. [2] In composing the setting in 1873, he had aimed to ‘match’ as ‘closely as possible the “poetical idea” […], that is, not only the sentimental keynote pervading the whole [song], but also the emotional changes in the single stanzas’. [3] Ideas, therefore, can be emotional, sensual, rather than purely intellectual.

His adaptation of ‘A Match’ is included in a collection called Seven Songs (1873), which, he specifically states, he composed in order to unite poetry and music as ‘it has always seemed […] strange and deplorable, that the treasures of English lyrical poetry have scarcely ever found congenial interpreters in the sphere of music’. Seven Songs also contains settings of poetry by William Morris and by both Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti.

Hueffer’s version uses only the first, second and final stanzas, as he appears to have interpreted the poem and adapted it to be more of a unified experience. He instead concentrates on the ‘sentimental keynote pervading the whole’, foregrounding this keynote while also dramatizing the ‘emotional changes within the single stanzas’ with sudden alterations in key and tempo (sometimes a creeping acceleration), and with sensual effects, which he signals to the singer in the score – ‘molta con espressione’ (‘with much expression’), ‘con tristezza’ (‘with sadness’). In feel and style, there’s definitely something of the German lieder about it, although I’m not entirely sure how successful the emphasis on the ‘sentimental keynote’ is at the expense of the poem’s measured tightening of mood. The piece appears to hit the expressive limit very quickly and then returns to it for two more attempts before halting, leaving little sense of the journey that the poem undoubtedly takes us on (though even in Swinburne’s text, the beginning and the ending of the poem contain elements of the other). Nevertheless, that one of the most important musical critics of the time was setting Swinburne to music is intriguing, not least for the impact that Hueffer had on musical taste by advocating Wagner to the public through his journalism.

The 1870s were a highly productive decade for Hueffer. Having studied music in Leipzig, Berlin, and Göttingen, Hueffer arrived in London in 1869. The reason for his emigration is unclear (possibly the mood in Germany before the Franco-Prussian War a year later?) but he then wrote for various journals on music before becoming The Times’s music critic in 1879. As he was publishing Seven Songs, he was also editing some of his articles from the Fortnightly Review so they could be re-published in 1874 as Richard Wagner and the Music of the Future. His account of the opening of Wagner’s theatre at Bayreuth and the first production of the entire Ring cycle is contained in Musical Studies (1880), which also highlights his passion for the philosopher Schopenhauer (an enthusiasm that Dante Gabriel Rossetti pokes fun at on numerous occasions in his letters). Hueffer’s Half a Century of Music in England: 1837-1887 (1889) also contains some fascinating anecdotes about various musical personalities of the Victorian age.

Unfortunately, Hueffer died suddenly and while quite young, leaving his wife, Catherine (Ford Madox-Brown’s daughter), and their children in a precarious financial position. The difficulties around this are documented in the Selected Letters of William Michael Rossetti, which also indicates the extent of the friendship between Hueffer and Swinburne, who became godfather to his son, the novelist Ford Madox Ford. [4]

The full score can be downloaded here: ‘A Match’ by Francis Hueffer.

Another piece by Hueffer on this site can be heard here: My Love, My Own.

[1]See Katherine Williams’s PhD thesis, ‘“Song New-Born”: Renaissance Forms in Swinburne’s Lyrics’(City University of New York, 1986) p. 180.

[2]Born in Germany, Hueffer also used his original name at times, Franz Hüffer.

[3]Francis Hueffer, ‘Avis au Chanteur’, Seven Songs(London: S. Lucas & Weber, 1873), p. 1.

[4]Selected Letters of William Michael Rossetti, edited by Roger W. Peattie(University Park and London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990).

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An Evening with the Gladstones

Last month I attended a hugely successful ‘Sounding the Salon’ event, which recreated an after-dinner concert originally given on Wednesday 12 March 1873 by Mary Gladstone – the daughter of the Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone – at the concert’s original venue, 11 Carlton House Terrace, London. This was then the Gladstone house, but is now part of the British Academy.

‘An Evening with the Gladstones’ – organised by Phyllis Weliver (Professor of English at Saint Louis University) and Dr Sophie Fuller (Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance) – featured as near as possible the same programme as the original evening. It included outstanding performances of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances (1869), Handel’s Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 1, No. 3 (1732) and ‘Where’er you Walk’ from Semele (1743), and the Spohr ‘Barcarole’ from Sechs SalonstückeOp. 135 (1846-7), given by Elena Abad (violin), Irina Lyahovskaya (piano), and William Branston (tenor). Uniquely, descendants of the Gladstone family were among the audience, which had been specially invited for the concert, which was both recorded and filmed.


Tenor William Branston and pianist Irina Lyahovskaya prepare to perform Handel’s ‘Where’er you Walk’ from Semele

Many of the details for the reconstruction were supplied from Mary Gladstone’s diary and from wider knowledge of the period about how salon concerts were staged. The audience, for example, were scattered into groups, rather than kept together in one block as is usually the case today. Also, while it was held in a large room (as can be seen from the photographs) the placement meant that the audience and performers were surprisingly near to each other. This created a feeling of shared intimacy (despite the room’s opulence and height), a feeling that is perhaps a rare commodity at concerts today – even at small studio events. Despite the proximity, the acoustics were strong yet surprisingly clear and bright, which was demonstrated perhaps most of all in the performance of Handel’s ‘Where’er you Walk’.


Phyllis Weliver and Sophie Fuller introduce the evening

The original guest list in 1873 included the Duke of Edinburgh, Lord & Lady Sydney, the Duke & Duchess of Cleveland, the Archbishop of Canterbury Archibald Campbell Tait and Miss Tait, and Lord Rosebery, among others.


The evening’s full programme


The room as it was in the nineteenth century

For further information visit the Sounding Victorian website

Follow the ‘Sounding the Salon’ Twitter feed

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Sounding the Salon: ‘An Evening with the Gladstones’

This exciting event is happening on Thursday (8 March, 2018) at the British Academy at Carlton House Terrace. It’s a re-creation, in the original space, of a concert that took place in 1873, the details of which come from the diary of Mary Gladstone (1847-1927). The performance will include violin sonatas by Le Clair, Handel, Beethoven; Spohr ‘Barcarole’; three Brahms Hungarian Dances. The event has been organised by Professor Phyllis Weliver of St Louis University and Dr Sophie Fuller of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance.

I’ll be putting up photographs after the performance. Click the link below for more details.

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Song, scandal, and a princess: We are not Sure of Sorrow (1898)

When I started this project, I would not have imagined Swinburne’s languid ‘The Garden of Proserpine’ from Poems and Ballads, First Series (1866) ever inspiring popular music, and certainly not the tone of this piece by Charles Paston-Cooper (1867-1941). Weary and somnambulant it is not, but celebrates the atheism of Swinburne’s words with the kind of triumphalism normally reserved for national religions. We are not Sure of Sorrow uses the poem’s last three stanzas, which contain some of Swinburne’s most famous lines (at least in terms of Victorian poetry), such as:

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea. (l. 81-88) [1]

Paston-Cooper’s setting is not quite as Swinburne understood his own poem. The song starts melodically, but quickly becomes bracing and jubilant, and at first I imagined that Paston-Cooper was merely using the popularity of Swinburne’s lyrics to sell the tune (which is partly the case, undoubtedly), but perhaps I now also see it as a sort of anti-hymn.

‘Hymn’ comes from the Latin hymnus, meaning ‘a song or ode in praise of gods’[2]. Even if Swinburne’s lyrics thank the ‘gods’, whatever they ‘may be’, the poem is not in praise of an eternal life to come, but in relief for the finality of death. ‘The Garden of Proserpine’ is a place of oblivion. Once the struggles of life have ended, it suggests, there will be no resurrection, in contrast to the Christian belief. Instead we will be freed from that ‘hope and fear’ and drift into a sea of forgetfulness and extinction.

In Poems and Ballads, First Series, ‘The Garden of Proserpine’ immediately follows a notorious poem called ‘Dolores’ and comes before ‘Hesperia’, another mythical garden poem. The three are linked, which Swinburne highlighted in his Notes on Poems and Reviews, published in October 1866. Poems and Ballads had been published earlier that year in July by Edward Moxon, but Moxon had since withdrawn the book because of abusive reviews and fears of prosecution for indecency. While many poems in the volume were censured, ‘Dolores’ (which contains images of castration, ecstatic blood lust and perhaps could be described – figuratively – as one long, repeated, circular sexual act), was particularly attacked, with the London Review calling it ‘depraved and morbid’ and (rather wonderfully, I think) ‘[the] mere deification of incontinence’.[3]

Published at the same time as Poems and Ballads was reissued by John Camden Hotten (who was known to publish the occasional piece of erotica), Swinburne’s Notes on Poems and Reviews makes a general defence of his poetry and clarifies some of its themes. He draws out the relationship between ‘Dolores’, ‘The Garden of Proserpine’ and ‘Hesperia’, which he says form a loose narrative progression, expressing a ‘transient state of spirit through which a man may be supposed to pass’. Between the ‘violent delights’ of ‘Dolores’ and where the ‘worship of desire has ceased’ in ‘Hesperia’ is ‘The Garden of Proserpine’, which is when, he says, ‘the spirit, without fear or hope of good things or evil, hungers and thirsts only after the perfect sleep’.[4]

As I say, Paston-Cooper’s We are not Sure of Sorrow is definitely not about sleep, and it might be said that its title is an understatement. It isn’t sure about sorrow at all. It’s rather emphatic in its atheism, and there is a certainty, vitality and a jubilation about this music which, as I say, makes it sound like an anti-hymn rather than a song to be sung after dinner.

Sir Charles Nauton Paston-Cooper (he inherited a baronetcy from his father in 1904) seems to have had a very colourful, even scandalous life, although details about it are scarce. In his early life he composed several successful songs, including another that uses Swinburne’s lyrics, A Leave-taking, which was performed at the Proms in 1902, then held at the Queen’s Hall in Langham Place. However, in 1894 he appears to have gained an undesirable kind of fame as a potential philanderer. Several newspapers report his somewhat leading role in a ‘theatrical divorce case’ between the actor-manager Charles Hawtrey (1858-1923) and his wife Madeline Hawtrey. The divorce courts, if one follows the chain of news stories across several publications, heard evidence that Madeline (who had petitioned divorce from her husband) was accused of ‘improper relations’ with Paston-Cooper (which she denied), ever since they had slept in adjacent rooms at a hotel in Cannes in the late 1880s. Given in striking detail by Reynolds’s Newspaper, the story travels from Cannes, back to London, and onto Monte Carlo, Paris and Venice, and even involves Madeline’s maid, Poole, who, it is said, ‘warned Mrs Hawtrey of her position in connection with her intimacy with Cooper’. [5] Although it was clearly one of the great scandals of the day, Madeline eventually won her divorce and, subsequently, Paston-Cooper looks to have transcended the dishonour, as in 1899 he married the Princess Tatiana Dolgorouky of Russia.

We are not Sure of Sorrow, by Charles Paston-Cooper (London: Chappell & Co, 1898)


[1]The Garden of Proserpine’ has inspired two other songs that I know of, ‘A Prayer of Thanksgiving’ by Louise Llewellyn (1907) and ‘Somewhere Safe to Sea’ by William Harold Neidlinger (1920), and was given a full orchestral and choir treatment by Vaughan Williams in The Garden of Proserpine, which, although written in 1899, was not performed until 2010. It can be heard on Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Garden of Proserpine, In the Fen Country, Fen and Flood, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Paul Daniel (Albion Records, 2011).

[2] Definition from the Oxford English Dictionary. Paston-Cooper had earlier published a setting of Ave Maria (Ducci & Co, 1893), and presumably the sentiments of this piece do not sit well with We are not Sure of Sorrow.

[3] Clyde K. Hyder, Swinburne: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970), p. 37.

[4] The Critical Heritage, pp. 53-55.

[5] Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday 1 July, 1894. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times of 14 July, 1894, also carries interesting news of the case with court sketches, in an article entitled, ‘The Hawtrey Divorce Case’.

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Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain Conference, 2017

Glad to say that along with the other members of the Sounding Victorian consortium, I’m going to be talking about my research and the project at the Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain Conference at the University of Birmingham next week!

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