While I appear to have broken my rule about only including music set to Swinburne lyrics, this really is a special case. The lyrics were clearly inspired by Swinburne, and – as I can find no clue as to where they have come from – I’m assuming that they’re by the composer himself, Francis Hueffer (a.k.a. Franz Hüffer, 1845-1889).
A close friend of Swinburne and William Michael Rossetti, Hueffer was The Times music critic from 1879, the editor of the New Quarterly Magazine, and wrote extensively on Wagner, including Richard Wagner and the Music of the Future (1874). He was one of the translators of Wagner’s libretti for the 1877 Wagner festival at the Royal Albert Hall, at which Wagner himself was present, and translated libretti for several other operas, including Verdi’s Otello. Hueffer also composed settings to poems, including Swinburne’s A Match.
Swinburne mentions Hueffer several times in his letters, as he married Catherine Madox Brown. Ford Madox Ford (the writer of Parade’s End and The Good Soldier, and many other works indeed), who was Francis and Catherine’s son, claims that Swinburne was his godfather. Given Swinburne’s antipathy to Christianity, this seems remarkably unlikely, but who am I to say otherwise?
Of the two pieces of Hueffer’s that I have listened to, this is by far the most successful. The other setting, that to A Match, is perhaps trying to be a little too Wagnerian for its own good and quickly overwhelms itself.
If anyone recognises where the lyrics come from – if they are not Hueffer’s – I would be delighted to know.
More Swinburne music shortly…
(Novello, Ewer & Co, 1880)