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The Syren. 1870.

Composer: Francesco Berger (1834-1933).


This is the earliest example I’ve found of Buchanan’s poetry set to music. The Syren (taken from “Undertones”) was published by Lamborn Cock and Co. in 1870 and the following review is from The Musical Times (1 June, 1870):

     “The Syren. Song. Poetry by Robert Buchanan (from “Undertones”). Music by Francesco Berger.
     THERE is so much character in this composition as to make it stand apart from the conventional songs of the day. The opening is extremely graceful, the voice having a melodious theme, accompanied with a light arpeggio in the right hand, and a monotonous legato bass. The excessive variety obtained by the most legitimate means, after the first double bar, deserves the warmest commendation, the change into G major, with the placid accompaniment, contrasting excellently with the phrase to the words “Call me Love or call me Fame.” The sudden Agitato in A flat, too, shows that the composer has deeply sympathised with the poet; and we must also give unqualified praise to the conclusion of the composition where the voice sustains the key-note, the accompaniment gradually dying away with broken arpeggios. This is a really good song, and worthy of really good singing.”

The Syren was reprinted by Messrs. Stanley Lucas, Weber, and Co. in 1886 and The Graphic (24 July, 1886) included this brief mention:

“— “The Syren,” a very romantic poem by Robert Buchanan (from “Undertones”), has been set to music of more than ordinary merit by Francesco Berger. It is somewhat difficult to play and sing, but well worth the trouble of studying.”

Obituary of Francesco Berger from The Times (27 April, 1933 - p.14):



     The long life of Francesco Berger, who died on Tuesday at his home at Palmers Green, N., in his ninety-ninth year, was devoted to musical interests, and more particularly to the higher branches of pianoforte teaching, and was illuminated by a close personal friendship with Charles Dickens.
     Though of Italian parentage, Berger, who was born in London on June 10, 1834, was also born to British nationality, since his father had been naturalized. He received his musical education in Germany, but spent most of his working life in this country. As a pupil of Moscheles he was reared in the strictest classical school of pianoforte playing, and received that tradition which the example of Chopin was to break through. He was, therefore, one of the last of the musicians of whom it can be said that all the great movements of the art in the nineteenth century came new into his life. He was a man well able to appraise them and profit by them, and his pupils at the Royal Academy of Music, the Guildhall School, and elsewhere received the fruits of a long experience.
     Apart from his teaching, Berger’s most public service to music in London was his work as honorary secretary of the Philharmonic Society from 1885, when Arthur Sullivan was appointed conductor, through a critical period, which included the transference of the concerts from St. James’s Hall to their present home at Queen’s Hall, until 1910, in which year Kreisler first produced Elgar’s violin concerto. Of his services to the society Sir Alexander Mackenzie wrote in his Memoirs (1927):—

During my tenure of office [as conductor] the heat and burden of the day was borne by an honorary secretary (happily still living) of remarkable linguistic accomplishment, much musical experience, and an immense capacity for work—Mr. Francesco Berger.

     Berger first came into personal touch with Charles Dickens in 1855, having previously, as he expressed it, “worshipped him from afar.” This was just before Dickens purchased Gadshill, and Berger enjoyed 15 years of friendship with him there and elsewhere, being requisitioned to supply music for two plays by Wilkie Collins, which Dickens produced at his famous private theatrical parties, The Lighthouse and The Frozen Deep. In an article of personal recollections of Dickens which Berger contributed to The Times in February, 1928 (the author was then in his ninety-fourth year), he dwelt on Dickens’s power of concentrating his energies on the occupation of the moment, and said:—

Whether presiding at a public banquet or reading from one of his books to spell-bound audiences, or acting, or dancing, or brewing punch for his guests at his hospitable table—it was always the entire Dickens (not a portion of him) that was engaged.

     Berger himself was a man of great energy and power of concentration, but certainly his output of work did not shorten his days, as he suggests may have been the case with Dickens. He was a voluminous and versatile composer of music, though not much of it reached a wide public. His pianoforte music and certain educational works had some importance, notably a pianoforte primer and “Musical Expressions in Four Languages,” as well as certain editions of the classics. Twenty years ago he published “Reminiscences, Impressions, and Anecdotes,” in which he chronicled a life lived among the great figures of the Victorian era and even then well over the average in length.
     In October, 1928, Berger contributed to The Times a paper on the native form of opera in England, and in 1930 and 1931 he drew, in several articles, on his recollections of Victorian dinners and evening parties, musicians at table, concert manners, and the old “entertainers,” such as Albert Smith, John Parry, Brandram, the German Reeds, Artemus Ward, and the Industrious Fleas. These articles all showed the astonishing clearness of his memory as well as his delightful humour. In 1864 Berger married Miss Annie Lascelles, one of the great contraltos of her day, and among his collection of musical manuscripts were the cadenzas which Manuel Garcia wrote for her. She died in 1907.



Dreaming. 1874.

Lady Baker (?)

Songs by ‘Lady Baker’, including one with words by Robert Buchanan (presumably ‘The Bachelor Dreams’, published in The Argosy (No. 6, May 1866) were reviewed in The Graphic of 23rd May, 1874:

     ‘MESSRS. KLEIN AND CO.—Ballads or songs may be classified under many heads, and Lady Baker has written for every style. “If” is of the discontented school, as shown by the directions, doloroso and affet (we conclude uoso). Christina Rossetti has supplied the morbid words.—Two songs with vocal and musical meaning are “Missing Thee among the Rye,” the rural words of which are by Sara Leifchild, and “The Old Couple,” for which Lady Baker has written both words and music, as she has done for “Old Memories,” a plaintive ballad which a contralto will do well to take up.—Barry Cornwall has supplied the semi-religious words for “The Mother’s Song,” which will touch many maternal hearts.—“Dreaming,” a well-written song by Robert Buchanan, music by Lady Baker, is a judicious warning to bachelors, who will do well to study it.—“The Mother’s Song Book: Two Part Songs for Little Singers,” has been carefully arranged, and the music composed by Lady Baker under the editorship of G. A. Macfarren. This little work, planned upon the Kindergarten School System, has much to commend it, but the tunes are not catching enough for juvenile singers, very few of whom could be taught to sing the second parts, the harmonies of which are at times difficult enough to puzzle educated elders.’

And also in Lloyds Weekly Newspaper of 7th June, 1874:

‘... Lady Baker is evidently a voluminous composer. We have here six of her songs, exhibiting more or less ability. “Dreaming,” with words by Robert Buchanan, “The Old Couple,” and “Old Memories” are mournful and dirge-like, and might be considered a trifle monotonous. There is much more sprightliness in “If,” a brilliant little song, with words by Christina Rossetti. “Missing Thee among the Rye” is also sparkling and vivacious. “The Mother’s Song” ia an exceedingly pretty setting of some verses by Barry Cornwall.’

I have found no further information about ‘Lady Baker’. There was another composer (noted for her hymns), Amy Susan Baker (1847-1940), who was the daughter of Lieut. Col. George Marryat and became ‘Lady Baker’ on her marriage to Rev. Sir T. H. B. Baker, Bart., of Ranston on 30th December, 1875. However the above reviews predate that, so the other ‘Lady Baker’ remains a mystery.



Spring Showers. 1884.

Emily Josephine Troup (?-1912).

According to her brief entry in wikipedia, Emily Josephine Troup was an English composer of songs and works for piano and violin, and was especially children’s songs. The following item in The Graphic of 19th July, 1884, mentions her setting of a Buchanan poem:

     “MESSRS. STANLEY LUCAS, WEBER, AND CO.—Half-a-dozen pleasing songs and ballads come from this firm. “Spring Showers,” words by Robert Buchanan, music by Emily J. Troup, is a pretty rustic love ditty for a mezzo- soprano. Of a more ambitious character is “Portuguese Love Song,” music by the above composer, words translated from the Portuguese by José de Vasconcellos, into very creditable English by J. T. Whitehead.”



The Wedding of Shon McLean. 1885 (?)

Composer: John Liptrot Hatton (1809-1886).


The first of four known musical versions of Buchanan’s ‘The Wedding of Shon McLean’ was written by John Liptrot Hatton. The date of its composition is unknown (the poem was first published in the Gentleman’s Magazine of July, 1874 and was then included in the 1882 collection, Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour) but Hatton’s version is mentioned in a review (from The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegram of 19th January, 1885) of a ‘Scotch Festival’ which took place on 17th January, 1885 at the Victoria Hall, Exeter:

‘... Mr. Gilbert Campbell has a powerful, vigorous and flexible bass voice, the nationality of which enabled him to give “The Hundred Pipers” with distinctive effect, and “Willie brew’d a peck o’ Maut” in a manner which elicited hearty applause; but it was in “The Wedding of Shon McLean” (composed by J. L. Hatton, in his own characteristic style, the words being taken from the poem by Robert Buchanan) that Mr. Campbell found his most successful and popular theme.’

According to a review in The Leeds Mercury of 23rd January, 1885, the song also featured in a concert by the Glasgow Select Choir at Leeds Town Hall, and it continued to be performed for several years.


[Advert from The Times (1 December, 1890).]


[Advert from The Coventry Herald (30 October, 1891).]



The Wedding of Shon McLean. 1887 (?)

Composer: Alexander Patterson (1849-?).

The second version of ‘The Wedding of Shon McLean’ was written by Alexander Patterson. The following information is taken from Musical Scotland: Past and Present by David Baptie (Hildesheim, New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1972):


A review of a Scottish Concert by the Glasgow Select Choir in The Leeds Mercury of 29 November, 1887 contains the following:

‘... There is the less need to wonder at the fine quality of the ensemble singing, when the quality of the separate voices is heard displayed in solos or duets, or when it is learned that among the members are to be found musicians of such ability as Mr. Patterson, the arranger of the two part-songs above named—“Annie Laurie” and “The Flowers of the Forest”—and many others sung by the choir.
     Opinions will probably differ as to which of the numerous items in the programme of yesterday evening’s entertainment were the best sung; possibly not those most enthusiastically applauded. Already two have been specially mentioned as above the average standard even of this choir; a third may be added, “The Wedding of Shon McLean,” composed by Mr. Patterson, and sung with irresistible spirit and humour by the gentlemen of the choir. A realistic effect in this song—an imitation of the skirl of the pipes—was quite too funny, and “brought down the house” in a roar of laughter and applause. As formerly has been the case, the encore system was in full swing, nearly half the numbers on the programme calling forth this token of approval; but alas! for the vanity of human expectations, what the audience wished to hear again was rarely repeated, some other utterly irrelevant morceau being substituted to satisfy this craving for more. Wishful to hear again the twenty pipers playing at Shon McLean’s Wedding, they were put off with “Ride we,” a capital composition by Dr. John Park, the solo in which was effectively sung by Mr. Gilchrist; very pretty no doubt, but not at all what was wanted.’


[Advert from The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (26 November, 1887).]


Alex Patterson’s version was also part of the repertoire of the Bristol Æolian Male Choir, according to this review of a concert at the Y.M.C.A. from The Western Daily Press (Bristol) of 11th December, 1902:

‘... The humour displayed in Alex. Patterson’s setting of Robert Buchanan’s quaint ballad, “The Wedding of Shon Maclean,” was well brought out, and an attempt made to have the piece repeated, but without success.’



The New Covenant. 1888.

Composer: Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie (1847-1935).


The following biography of Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie is taken from the fifth edition of The Oxford Companion To Music (1944):

     Born in Edinburgh in 1847 and died in London in 1935, aged eighty-seven. He came of a musical family, his great- grandfather being a member of a militia band, and his grandfather and father being professional violinists.
     When he was ten he was sent to Germany to study music. There he learnt to play the violin and to compose. When he returned at fifteen he had to relearn his native language. He then won a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, and on leaving it settled for a time in Scotland as choral conductor, precentor of an Edinburgh church, and general music practitioner. A period devoted to composition in Italy followed, and at forty-one he was appointed Principal of the Royal Academy, where for thirty-six years he ruled with mingled firmness and sympathy.
     His compositions include operas (several of which had successful production in Germany), oratorios, and cantatas, orchestral pieces, a piano concerto, a violin concerto, and most other things.
     Queen Victoria knighted him in 1895 and King George V made him a Knight Commander of the Victorian Order in 1922. He became honorary Mus.D. of four universities, D.C.L. of two, and LL.D. of one; possibly as a sevenfold doctor he held the record amongst musicians.”

Further information about Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie is available on the Musicweb International site and the Hyperion site has details of current recordings of his violin and piano concertos and a selection of his orchestral works. The Who Was Who in the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company site lists Mackenzie’s operas: Columba (1883), The Troubador (1886), His Majesty (1897), The Cricket on the Hearth (1914) and The Eve of St. John (1925). It also says that “Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie was widely recognized as the greatest Scottish composer of his day.” He is also one of the composers featured in Charles Willeby’s book Masters of English Music (London: James R. Osgood, McIlvaine & Co., 1896) which is available at the Internet Archive.

Mackenzie collaborated with Robert Buchanan on several occasions. In 1888, Buchanan and Mackenzie were commissioned to write an ode for the opening ceremony of the Glasgow International Exhibition. Buchanan’s words, and a description of Mackenzie’s music, are available below:

The New Covenant

The score of The New Covenant, Op. 38 (for chorus and piano) was published by Novello, Ewer and Co. in 1888.

Mackenzie also provided some of the music for Buchanan’s play, The Bride of Love which was performed at the Adelphi and Lyric theatres in London in 1890 and he also wrote the overture and incidental music for Buchanan’s stage adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion, which was produced at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow and the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh in 1891. The songs from Marmion were published and were reviewed in the Glasgow Herald (15/5/1891):

“ Messrs Novello, Ewer & Co., London, send us Dr Mackenzie’s “Marmion” songs, “Where shall the lover rest?” and “Young Lochinvar.” The melodies are distinctive, the first having a certain dramatic significance in its stage setting, of which it is, of course, divested in the drawing-room. They are not easy to sing.”

Mackenzie’s memoirs, A Musician’s Narrative, were published by Cassell, London, in 1927.



Meg Blane, a rhapsody of the sea. Op. 48. 1902.
Part-songs. Op. 73a. 1909:
     ‘O mariners, out of the sunlight’
     ‘O who will worship the great God Pan?’
Love is like the roses. 1918

Composer: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912).


There is plenty of information available about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, from a brief biography on the 100 Great Black Britons website, which hints at the difficulties he must have encountered to achieve his position as Britain's foremost black composer of classical music, a more detailed biography on (African Heritage in Classical Music), to the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation.

‘Meg Blane’, his cantata based on Buchanan’s poem, was premiered in Sheffield on Friday, October 3rd, 1902. The Sheffield Daily Independent previewed the work on 23rd September:


The New Works.

Mr. Coleridge-Taylor’s “Meg Blane.”

     The second novelty of next week’s Sheffield Festival is Mr. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s hitherto unheard “Meg Blane.” Dr. Coward’s cantata “Gareth and Linet” was noticed in Saturday’s issue.
     The composer of “Meg Blane” was born in London in August, 1875, so that he is quite a young man for one who has won such wide fame. His mother was an Englishwoman, and his father, a medical man, was a native of Sierra Leone. He began to study music when he stepped into knickers, his first fancy being the violin. When he reached the mature age of ten years he became a choirboy in a Croydon church, and for ten years—more than half his musical life—was an alto singer in the same choir. During this time, however, he was studying the violin, piano, composition, etc., at the Royal College of Music, in addition to his ordinary scholastic studies. He won numerous prizes. When he secured a scholarship he devoted himself mainly to composition under Sir Villiers Stanford. One of the earliest works which had public hearing was a clarinet quintet, which was introduced in Berlin by Dr. Joachim. In 1892 his first contribution to vocal music was published by Messrs. Novello, this being an anthem, “In Thee, O Lord, have I put my trust.” He was then sixteen years of age. Since then orchestral ballads, overtures, chamber music, songs, symphonies, and cantatas have followed in quick succession from his gifted pen. His “Scenes from Hiawatha” may be declared the most successful work of its class since Sullivan gave us for the Leeds Festival his “Golden Legend.” The promise of “Hiawatha,” was not exceeded in his Leeds novelty of last year, but the work which he has written for Sheffield is much more worthy of him. He has been termed the Rudyard Kipling of our younger composers. He more than merits this compliment. Given a libretto with a spice of tragedy or of pathos in it, and few men of to-day would clothe it with greater originality of melodic beauty. He is a rhythmic writer of rare power, while his knowledge of the possibilities of the modern orchestra and his skilful manipulation of the themes upon which he bases his creations make him a master in his art.
     “Meg Blane,” which is dedicated to Miss Wakefield, was written about eighteen months ago. The composer’s intentions were simply to illustrate the splendid song of the tragedy of the cruel sea, which Robert Buchanan penned. The work is written for one soloist only, a mezzo-soprano voice, chorus, and orchestra. Though termed a rhapsody rather than a cantata, it must not be concluded that it is rhapsodical in form. The entire work is, in fact, built up on three motifs, easily written on a quarter-sheet of notepaper. Buchanan’s poem opens with a prayer to God for all poor souls at sea. It describes the bursting storm, the foam-flecked reef, the stranding of the bark, the renewed prayer of the mariners on the shore, the glimmer of dawn in the east, the congregation of silent fishers upon the shore waiting for the sea to give up its dead, the call by Meg Blane to man the boat, the battling of the boat with the fearless woman at the helm, and the bootless act of heroism. In an epilogue the inevitable is accepted, with a fervently reiterated prayer for all poor souls at sea, and another thrilling picture of the storm.
     In the Prologue which is written in the key of C the soloist has frenzied phrases in the prayer for those who go down to the sea in ships. The Prayer theme is heard at the opening of the solo, and the orchestration is devotional. What may be termed the Tempest theme is enunciated at the phrase “The wild white water screams.” A little later, after the vocal phrase “Whistle back Thy wind, for the sake of Christ Thy Son,” the third motif—the gloom theme—is introduced. Twenty bars of characteristically designed instrumental music misterioso, and well depicting mystery, divide the opening prayer from the first chorus, which is descriptive of the gathering storm and its intensity. Here the composer has made splendid use of his powers. His telling melodic phrases and harmonic resources serve to depict the horror of a night storm at sea. With the re-entry of the soloist in the words “Ah, Go, put out Thy hand, all for the sake of the little ones,” a haunting phrase which is frequently used is noted. Having been declared by the solo voice the phrase is immediately repeated by the chorus, tenors and basses having it in alternation with sopranos and contraltos. Fierceness of phrase is heard in the setting of the words “Chain the fierce waves with a chain,” and despair is noted at the phrase “He hath no heart to die.” An orchestral interlude here contains a pretty and pregnant running figure, which may well have been intended to illustrate happier and calmer weather. Further evidence of happy wedding of text and music is found in vocal description of the lull in the storm and the approaching break of day, which is indicated unmistakably in the orchestral writing. Then again gloom gathers, and the theme used at the words “Ah, God, put out Thy hand,” is amplified for tenors and basses, in unison, with an accompaniment supplied by the lower instruments. Here Meg Blane makes her appearance. The breaking in upon the scene of the brave-hearted woman is very effectively pictured in the orchestration. Then a stretto for the orchestra appears. This may be said to indicate the confusion on the beach before the launching of the lifeboat. With a big fortissimo the rush to seaward is typified. The shrieks of women and the cries of desperate men do not pass without special colouring. Very telling phrases for the brass will be found here. The trumpets have the opening theme which runs between the tremolando of the strings and the telling woodwind. This continues until the entire orchestra renders a later easily identified theme in an augmented form. An unaccompanied choral passage in six-part harmony with marcato effect sets forth the sentiment, “Now fearless heart, Meg Blane, or all must die.” The tragedy is tragically pourtrayed, the decrescendo in the orchestra and the pathos of the chorus telling as effectively as do the words themselves of the grim triumph of the sea.
     The Epilogue is entirely made up of the subject matter of the Prologue, but the music which was before in triple time is now duple. The solo voice opens the movement without any accompaniment. The chorus, now in eight parts to the close, repeats the phrase, “Lord, hearken to me! Save all poor souls at sea!” the harmonies having different meaning to those heard before. Solo and chorus alternate for some time. The solo becomes shorter, while the choral phrases are longer. Phrases recur from the early portion with harmonic elaboration. The few notes which have become familiar in the prologue assume greater importance and are developed. But the tempo is now rapid, and the climax of the work is reached with the repetition of the words “Whistle back Thy wind, for the sake of Christ Thy Son.” There is a diminuendo for all, and with trumpet again heard softly, the work ends pianissimo.
     Mr. Coleridge-Taylor uses the full orchestra. He makes calls upon cymbals, big drum, harp, and organ (the latter in the Epilogue only), and has written instrumental accompaniments which will not fail to please, almost if not quite as greatly as does the vocal music.’

The first performance of ‘Meg Blane’ took place during the morning concert on the third day of the 1902 Sheffield Music Festival at the city’s Albert Hall. The concert opened with Dvorak’s ‘Stabat Mater’, followed by Bach’s ‘Jesu, Priceless Treasure’, then after the interval, ‘Meg Blane’, conducted by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. The review of the day’s concerts in The Sheffield Daily Independent of 4th October, is available here, but the following extracts relate to ‘Meg Blane’:

     ‘After the interval came “Meg Blane,” Mr. Coleridge-Taylor’s original production for the Sheffield Festival, and conducted by the swarthy composer himself. This short, vigorous work had a great success. It proved to be simple and comprehensible for all. Mr. Buchanan’s poem, which forms the libretto, might have been written with a view to musical interpretation, so perfectly adapted is it to the requirements of the descriptive composer. “Meg Blane” takes its title from the name of a fearless woman who plays the part of Grace Darling, but with tragic ineffectiveness, and the poem and the music describe the storm at sea, the terror of the situation of the shipwrecked mariners, and the despair at the failure of Meg Blane’s attempt to rescue them. The narrative is shared by a soloist and the chorus, and “Meg Blane” introduced in the former capacity a new Festival principal singer in Madame Kirkby Lunn, a singularly powerful mezzo-soprano. Madame Lunn has been previously heard in Sheffield in grand opera.’

The paper’s music critic dealt with the piece in more detail, reprinting the description from the September preview, with these additions:

‘Coleridge-Taylor’s “Meg Blane.”

     Mr. Coleridge-Taylor’s rhapsody of the sea, “Meg Blane,” will be remembered as one of the most pleasing and effective compositions submitted at the 1902 Festival.
. . .
     Madame Kirkby Lunn’s voice splendidly suited the solo part, its volume and the operatic experience of the artist both being complementary to the dramatic rendering of the passages from the poem which the composer has given to the mezzo soprano voice. Mr. Taylor has not spared himself in a single line. He has written effective descriptive music to a poem which lends itself to such a man as he, and the band and chorus vied with each other in their successful efforts to give the colouring which each separate line demands. The eight-part epilogue stood out for conspicuous excellence, but the manner in which the whole story was told by singers and players—for the latter were almost as eloquent in their tones as the former in their distinct enunciation of the text—was such as in itself alone to warrant the enormous preparation necessary for the carrying to an issue of the Festival.  Mr. Taylor responded to three recalls. His firm handling of his forces from the conductor’s seat showed him to be gaining experience in this branch of his profession.’

And from the ‘Festival Asides’ section:

     ‘Mr. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor had to hasten to London immediately after the remarkably fine rendering of his “Meg Blane.” He regarded the whole achievement as excellent, especially the singing of the epilogue. The chorus, he added, had the whole run of the work, and threw into it that emotion which could be expected from a soloist but never anticipated from a choir. He was immensely pleased, and had never been more delighted with the rendering of any of his compositions. “Say what you will in the way of eulogy,” added Mr. Coleridge-Taylor, as he left for the railway station, “and I will endorse it.”’

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 4th October was also full of praise for ‘Meg Blane’. The following editorial gave a little more prominence to the part played by Robert Buchanan:

     ‘Our musical representatives have dealt so fully, and with such evident pleasure in their work, with all that has been produced day by day and night by night, during the Sheffield Musical Festival, that no running comment or summing-up is needed. The Festival had exceptional features, and each music-lover will give pride of place to what stirs him most. There is no need to censure the theology of “The Dream of Gerontius,” any more than to question the counsels of Confucius because we like not the creed of his kind, or sit in solemn judgment over any of the Western world’s outworn dogmas. One can read and be wiser by the reading of Dante, though he has a deal to say about that place which is “never mentioned to ears polite.” Men do not rail at Gustave Dore though they refuse to accept his conception of poor sinners being stuck, head downwards, in separate places of fiery torture. They may not believe in a personal enemy of mankind at all, and yet be able to rejoice in the genius which gives Dore’s art, just as we rejoice in the genius which gives us such music as thrills us in “The Dream of Gerontius.” Music is not narrowed by man or this earth-house he lives in. It will survive both. Hence Carlyle’s definition of it as “a kind of inarticulate unfathomable speech, which leads us to the edge of the infinite, and lets us for moments gaze into that.”
     To many people, too, environment counts for everything in the song that is sacred, whether it is of “the glory in the highest” or but the story of some lowly life which went out in darkness our dull wits fail to understand. Take a youth, fresh from a land where in his time choirs are as vanity and the organ an abomination—“a wicked worshipping of God by machinery”—and put him inside a great Cathedral to hear for the first time the sublime strains of “Stabat Mater.” That boy, when he becomes a man, will feel that, though the majestic impressiveness of what he hears makes him forget the surroundings of a gaily-adorned concert-hall, the forgetfulness will be but momentary, and his thoughts will go back to the place in which he first heard it, in the House of Prayer, where long drawn aisle and lofty roof, stately pillar and storied window, make the true setting for a work which is an inspiration moving the listener to the very depths of his being. Ear could not wish to hear a nobler rendering than was given yesterday in our Albert Hall; yet to one of the audience, at least, it seemed to need the solemn surroundings in which he first heard it with Roman Catholic friends at Newcastle-on-Tyne, to complete its perfection. There has been only one Dvorak, and “Stabat Mater” stands absolutely alone. But on the more human level of that tragedy of the Moray Firth, “Meg Blane,” the poet has found sea and land the composer has not yet touched. Robert Buchanan knew his North Coast, and of the lives that are lived there. “Meg Blane” is no mere creation of the poet’s fancy, but flesh and blood in a figure full of pathos, one whose story, though only half-told in the striking rhapsody the composer conducted so effectively, had enough tragedy in the half to serve for the whole.
     We know not, and we care not, what the critics may say about “Meg Blane” this morning. But we think of it as it makes us think of the land and the sea, and of the fisher folk in their homes under the cliffs in the curve of those stormy waters, and the thought with us is that the poet’s words have been wonderfully wedded to music that will live. Having so truly interpreted the human tragedy of the North, why should not Mr. Coleridge-Taylor turn to the South and take for text “The Covenanters?” He will find in the same poet who gave him “Meg Blane,” meet subjects in Kilmahoe and Munroe, that Winter they met with their flock “in the dark o’ night to pray,” where “the sea filled up the pauses with its roar.” What a colour-picture Mr. Coleridge-Taylor could give us of the midnight gathering, of the sudden onslaught of the Dragoons on the doomed Covenanters, of the deadly battle in the dark, until “the pale Moon made a glamour from the skies.” And then:—

O God! it was a sight that made the hair turn white,
     That withered up the heart’s blood into woe,
To see the faces loom in the dimly lighted gloom,
     And the dead men lying bloodily below;
While melting, with no sound, fell with gentleness around
     The white peace and the wonder of the Snow!’

The main review of the Festival (available here) included this section on ‘Meg Blane’:


     ‘With Mr. Coleridge-Taylor’s orchestral and choral rhapsody, “Meg Blane,” which was the first item after the luncheon interval, the Sheffield Festival made history. If for no other reason than that it was the birthplace of a very clever and beautiful work, the meeting of 1902 will become memorable.
     There is an added pleasure in being able to say so much of the young musician’s latest work, for it was our unpleasant duty to point out the weaknesses and comparative failure of his last Festival novelty at Leeds last October. But on that occasion a weak libretto contributed to the result, while in the case of “Meg Blane,” the vivid word painting and virile text of the late Robert Buchanan’s stirring description of the tragedy of Moray Firth, have inspired the composer to invest the poem with a musical treatment at once appropriate and effective. A detailed description of the plan and features of the work has already appeared. The reader may, however, be reminded that it is written for mezzo-soprano solo, chorus, and orchestra, and that the poem tells of a wreck and the crowd of watchers on the shore “waiting for the end,” and of Meg Blane’s gallant impulse with its fruitless sequel. The prayer, “Lord hearken to me; save all poor souls at sea,” is the motto of the entire composition. It is given out immediately by the solo voice, and subsequently worked up into a lengthy epilogue.
     Mr. Taylor is an impressionable musician. The story and the scene have evidently appealed to him, for he has written round the poem a musical setting of pronounced and convincing power. In his depiction of the storm scene he has not adopted the cheap devices of the improvising organist. There are no long chromatic scales and harsh dissonances in the bass instruments; it is a storm without thunder and lightning. He has preferred to treat the emotional aspect of it rather than the realistic, and when he uses the full powers of his musical forces it is in the portraying of some excess of human feeling, not as a reflection of elemental turbulence. It is this feature which so much adds to the artistic value of the work. In a few little effects of realism, such as the rending timbers when the vessel strikes the reef—represented by a quivering, semi-quaver passage for the ’cellos—or the swaying alto and tenor parts at the words, “Softly the good helm guides,” the musical values have never been sacrificed to an imitative fidelity, and so more by suggestion than representation we have the moving scene brought before us.
     The composer’s economy of thematic material is so much a feature of this work that were it not for his wonderful invention and resource in utilising the themes in an endless variety of ways tediousness would inevitably ensue. But there is no tediousness in “Meg Blane.” What is termed the “motto” theme of the work reappears in one form or another many scores of times, and two other prominent phrases, with their variants, are similarly used at frequent points. But so effectively are they varied in rhythm, treatment, and form that in every new guise they are welcome.
     The orchestral writing, though based so largely on limited phrases, displays no poverty of ideas. Themes of an episodical character and ingenious figures abound on every page. The instrumentation is, in tone colour as well as in the individual treatment of various instruments, a feature of what is perhaps an orchestral work first and a choral one afterwards. It does not follow from this that there is any weakness in the choral writing. On the contrary, the vocal portions, if easy, certainly furnish the best examples of his ability in that direction which Mr. Taylor has hitherto given us. There is a directness and vigour about the descriptive portions called for by the nature of the subject. The eight-part epilogue is not only intensely expressive, but is full of striking contrasts and climaxes in which the choristers yesterday thoroughly revelled. Determined on giving the young musician every help in the initial hearing of his work, they put heart, mind, and voice into their efforts, and from first to last they never fell off. The result was a decided hit for Mr. Taylor and his clever and fresh new work.
     Madame Kirkby Lunn’s powerful voice and impassioned singing made the solos doubly effective. Her declamation was heard with thrilling effect in the ejaculatory phrases, where the voice of Meg Blane enters amid the descriptive story of the chorus.
     The composer was recalled again and again, and cheered enthusiastically. “Meg Blane” is so good that it must be heard again, and probably an opportunity will soon be afforded by one of the local choral societies.’

The concert was also reviewed on 4th October in The Yorkshire Post:

     ‘Now Sheffield, in its young enthusiasm, has provided a programme which is most interesting and artistic, but errs, it seems to me, in giving more exacting work to the chorus than flesh and blood can stand. This morning they sang Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater,” and, as if an hour and a half’s music of this kind were not sufficient for the first part of the concert, they added to it a Bach motet taking just half-an-hour in performance. They sang Dvorak to perfection, though once or twice it was just possible to detect traces of fatigue, which became very apparent in the five-part motet, “Jesu, Priceless Treasure.” The voices lost their clear ring, and the organ—luckily an instrument of exceptionally refined and sympathetic quality, had to be used freely to keep them up to the pitch. This was the more tantalising, since it was evident they could, under favourably conditions, sing the music quite perfectly, with the utmost vocal charm and the exactest precision. But it was nothing short of gross cruelty to choralists who had been singing “Israel in Egypt” up to close upon eleven o’clock on the preceding night, and, I am told, had had a special rehearsal only just before the morning concert, to give them this additional task, which made their singing seem obviously laboured. And after the interval they had to return and sing Mr. Coleridge Taylor’s new work, which is chiefly choral!
     This brings me to a consideration of this novelty, “Meg Blane,” a setting for mezzo-soprano, chorus, and orchestra, of Robert Buchanan’s stirring poem of that name. It is a subject that appeals to the composer’s idiosyncrasies most forcibly, since it is picturesque and highly emotional, and those are precisely the adjectives one would apply to his music. And, for a composer who depends so much upon his text for suggestion, it was well that he chose a poem entirely free from the childish expression and cheap melodrama of Longfellow’s “Blind Girl,” which not even his wealth of happy ideas could conceal. The thematic material of “Meg Blane” is spontaneous and happy, and thoroughly characteristic of the composer. The music passes along smoothly, and without any sense of awkward joints, and fits the different situations admirably, with that vivid picturesqueness and force of which Mr. Coleridge Taylor is such a master. He rises without fail to the dramatic situation, and realises the pathos and terror of the scene of the shipwreck, and the nobility of the heroine’s sacrifice. He uses his themes with his habitual skill and economy, and one feels that his greatest requirement is a rather keener sense of proportion and of construction in its larger sense of the management of the great masses of a composition.
     The mezzo-soprano part is mostly declamatory, but it is exceedingly fine and expressive declamation, and it had, besides, the advantage of being sung with exceptional dramatic force by Mdme. Kirkby Lunn. The whole performance was an excellent one, and placed the work in the best possible light. The chorus, refreshed by their hour’s interval, sang with renewed strength, and their enunciation deserves especial praise. Their delivery of the words, “shuddering,” “shivering,” produced a corresponding effect in the hearer’s mind.’

And The Times:

     ‘At the beginning of the second part of the concert came a new work of some importance. Mr. Coleridge-Taylor has become in a very few years a figure of prominence in the English musical world, and each new work from his pen is the more anxiously expected for the very reason that of late his productions have been remarkably unequal. It is satisfactory to be able to say that his setting of Robert Buchanan’s Meg Blane is one of the best things he has done; if it is not another Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast it is at least a good deal better than the last section of his Longfellow trilogy, and a vast improvement on the work he contributed to the Leeds Festival of last year. The story of an unsuccessful Grace Darling’s exploit is set forth with much conviction and artistic skill, for mezzo soprano solo and chorus. The soloist is identified at certain points with Meg Blane, who attempts to row to the rescue of some shipwrecked men, but the main opportunities for the single voice are in a prologue and epilogue set to the same words. The declamatory opening is very well imagined, and at the repetition great variety is brought about by allowing a choir of eight parts to answer the soloist’s words. A phrase which obviously stands for the idea of intercession is developed and transformed in various ways with very decided skill, and the choral writing, as well as the orchestral, is vigorous and original. The composer, who conducted, was twice recalled and enthusiastically applauded.’

I also came across a mention of a more recent performance on the Chandos Forum:

“How I wish there was a recording of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s cantata “MEG BLANE” - a “Rhapsody of the Sea” - (written in 1902) for mezzo-soprano, chorus & orchestra. We heard this work performed at Eton College a few years ago, by the Windsor Sinfonia with the Broadheath Singers, conducted by Robert Tucker. A very atmospheric work that definitely needs to be recorded. I think it was about 35 minutes in length.”

The Hyperion site has the sleevenotes to their CD of Coleridge-Taylor's Violin Concerto and the following passage caught my eye - it seemed appropriate to quote it here considering Buchanan's opinion of publishers:

“A week after the Crystal Palace performance Coleridge-Taylor’s standing was established for all time with English audiences when Stanford conducted the first performance of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast at the RCM. The press reception was huge, and within two years he had produced two further parts of Hiawatha; one of the early performances of the complete score came at the 1900 Birmingham Festival when he had a standing ovation, in contrast to the mixed reception accorded Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius which had its imperfect first performance at the same festival. Unfortunately, hard up, he sold the copyright of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast to his publisher outright, for £15, unaware that he had written what was to be the most popular British choral work of its day. The vocal score sold over 140,000 copies before the First World War, and it was performed repeatedly by every choral society in the country. If only he had taken a royalty he could have lived in comfort. As it was he was scratching around for a living all his life.”

The score of ‘Meg Blane, a rhapsody of the sea. Op. 48’ is available at the Internet Archive.

Coleridge-Taylor also set the following poems of Buchanan to music:

Part-songs, op. 73a, for men’s voices (TTBB), 1909, included ‘O mariners, out of the sunlight’ and ‘O who will worship the great god Pan?’ Published by J. Curwen & Sons in 1910. And Love is Like the Roses (a song for low voice and piano) was published by Arthur P. Schmidt in 1918.

In 2008 a biography of Coleridge-Taylor, Black Mahler by Charles Elford, was published by Grosvenor House. There’s a website for the book which includes much more information about this truly fascinating composer.


The Wedding of Shon Maclean, a Scottish rhapsody. 1909.
The Wake of O'Connor, an Irish rhapsody. 1913.

Composer: Hubert Bath (1883-1945).


The fifth edition of The Oxford Companion To Music (1944) gives the following brief biography of Hubert Bath:

“Born at Barnstaple in 1883. He has written stage and other music, chiefly of the somewhat lighter kind, and has served as musical adviser to the London County Council, directing the organization of its park bands.”

A more detailed biography of Hubert Bath is provided by Philip L. Scowcroft in his essay, ‘A First Garland of British Light Music Composers’ on the Musicweb site. Bath’s output included orchestral suites, cantatas, military marches and other works for brass band (including ‘Out of the Blue’ which, for many years was the signature tune of BBC Radio’s Sports Report), but he was also one of the pioneers of film music in Britain. He is perhaps best known for ‘The Cornish Rhapsody’ which he composed for the film Love Story (1944) and which is available on CD compilations of similar film favourites like 'The Warsaw Concerto'. As well as providing some of the music for the first British 'talkie', Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929), he also contributed to the score of Hitchcock’s 1935 version of The 39 Steps. Much of his work was uncredited but a list of the films he worked on is available on imdb. He was working on the score for The Wicked Lady when he died at Harefield, Middlesex on 24 April 1945.

The Wedding of Shon McLean ‘A Scottish Rhapsody for Chorus, Soprano and Baritone soloists and Orchestra’ was first performed at the Queen’s Hall, London on Tuesday, 30th March, 1909.


[Advert from The Times (24 March, 1909 - p.1).]


The Aberdeen Daily Journal of 31st March, 1909 carried this review from their London correspondent:

     “Choral societies in London are not so many as to make an addition to their number superfluous. To-night, an entirely new body of singers, formed by Messrs Chappell and called the Queen’s Hall Choral Society, made its first appearance. It is generally said that, owing to the restrictions of their dialect, Londoners cannot sing and have poor voices. That may be, but nevertheless the 250 singers constituting the new choir were able to pour out a fine volume of tone. In choral technique—the points of attack, release, and general blend—the choir has yet something to learn; but the conductor, Signor Franco Leoni, whose methods are not free from a certain Southern impetuousness, seemed more bent on drawing out the tone of his choir than on paying attention to the points which make the real value of choral effort. Two new works were brought forward for the occasion. One was a setting by Mr Hubert Bath of Robert Buchanan’s characteristic ballad “The Wedding of Shon Maclean,” and the other came from France in the form of a dramatic cantata on the subject of “Ulysses and the Sirens,” composed by M. Paul Puget. Mr Bath supplies a specimen of choral writing that is likely to be popular. His conception of what forms Scottish character in music belongs to Cockaigne rather than to Caledonia, and his humour is sometimes obvious and cheap, but this is the best thing he has yet done in the way of extensive composition, and well indicates where his powers lie. ...”

And the London correspondent of The Yorkshire Post (31/3/1909), described the piece thus:

     “The most memorable event of the evening was the first production of a setting by Mr. Herbert Bath of Robert Buchanan’s poem, ‘The Wedding of Shon MacLean,’ which has all the elements of popularity. Mr. Bath is a native of Barnstaple, where he was born in 1883. Although so young he has composed a considerable number of works which testify to freshness of thought, originality of ideas, and musicianly skill. His setting of Buchanan’s poem is masterly in its perception of humour, appropriateness of manner, and scoring. Moreover, the music is instinct with life, and this seemed to be felt by the choristers, who entered into its spirit with the greatest zest. Several times a ripple of laughter ran through Queen’s Hall at the aptness with which the music emphasised the mock gravity of the situation. The refrain is allied to a melody that once heard is hard to forget, and was hummed by many as they left the hall. Over the whole there is pleasantly cast an artistic atmosphere that excites esteem, and there can be little doubt that it will delight a large number of choral societies and their audiences. It contains short solos for soprano and baritone, and these parts were admirably rendered by Madame Agnes Nicholls and Mr. Peter Dawson. The composer conducted, and at the close the applause was enthusiastic.”

A performance by the Queen’s Hall Choral Society later in the year elicited this review from The Times (3 November, 1909 - p.12):

“Mr. Hubert Bath’s clever and humorous “Wedding of Shon Maclean,” with Miss Teyte and Mr. Bates in the solo parts, was repeated with success, the various “Scotch” effects, such as the “snap” and the orchestral imitation of bagpipes, being greatly appreciated. The Queen’s Hall orchestra played the accompaniments and occasionally looked at the conductor.”

The piece was performed at the Leeds Music Festival in October, 1910, and this was also reviewed in The Times (15 October, 1910 - p.10):

“The other choral work with which the concert closed is not very well fitted to a large festival like Leeds. Mr. Hubert Bath’s “The Wedding of Shon Maclean” is a great success with a certain class of choral societies, and those who are amused with the cockney representation of Scotsmen on the stage are sure to enjoy its many humours; but with a large chorus and in the conditions which are present at our great festivals the jokes are apt to seem commonplace and thin. The composer conducted,and Miss Perceval Allen and Mr. Kennerley Rumford sang the solo parts as well as they could be sung. The favourable reception of the work was no doubt partly due to the musical cleverness and the adroit weaving together of themes, but also to the excellent performance.”

Published by Chappell & Co. in 1909, the score is available to download from IMSLP.



The Wake of O’Connor - ‘An Irish Rhapsody’, was written in 1913 and is a 30 minute piece for soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists, choir, timpani, percussion, organ and strings. It received its first performance in Cardiff on 18th February, 1914.


[Advert from the Western Mail (7 February, 1914 - p.6).]


The concert was reviewed in the Western Mail on 19th February:






     Cardiff Musical Society, which has set an example the rest of Wales might well emulate in the selection of modern compositions, had the honour on Wednesday of producing a new work by Mr. Hubert Bath, a rising young British composer—a work which is destined to become more popular than any of his previous efforts.
     “The Wake of O’Connor,” the novelty which attracted an exceptionally large audience to the society’s third concert of the season at the Park-hall, is a composition of which more will be heard in the future. And it can be said at once that the performance was such that one was well able to appreciate its merits. The new work was received most favourably. The composer, who conducted, expressed himself as being delighted, and was prompted to pay a warm and well-deserved tribute to the chorus and its conductor, Mr. T. E. Aylward.


     In his setting of Robert Buchanan’s poem as an Irish rhapsody for a full quartette of soloists, chorus, and orchestra Mr. Hubert Bath shows a distinct advance in many respects on “The Wedding of Shon Maclean,” (a work previously performed by the society) which gained for him considerable popularity throughout the country, and raised him to the ranks of the rising British composers. It is equally distinctive in modern characterisation, and reflects as well, if not better, the vitality and breezy humour of the composer’s individuality; but Buchanan’s words, with their quaint mixture of frivolity, pathos, and Celtic mysticism, demand more versatile treatment, and it is in the happy manner in which he blends these opposite qualities that Mr. Bath shows the most decided advance. Each of these distinctive moods, intermixed as the poem suggests, is strongly typified.
     The thematic material is thoroughly good and well worked out, the writing in this respect being slightly reminiscent of Coleridge-Taylor. At times one can trace the influence of Wagner, and at others that of Elgar, but Mr. Bath evidently possesses the power of assimilation in a high degree, and his own individuality is nearly always predominant. His originality is most pronounced in the straightforward expression of the humorous passages—a style that immediately appeals to everybody—and in the Hibernian “atmosphere” that pervades the whole.
     But he has most skilfully adapted himself to the other moods of the poem, and one of the most effective themes, to which attention might be called, is that which breaks out early in the frolics with which the “King of the Fun” is being honoured at the words, “There’s dancing and crying,” and implying “the skirl of the wake is the end of the tune.” This haunting theme frequently recurs, and forms the groundwork of an imposing climax at the end. Realistic devices in the orchestration are used more sparingly than in the earlier work; but, where employed, such as for the bagpipes, they are certainly effective.


     Throughout the choral writing is grateful both to singers and listeners, and the chorus fully entered into the spirit of the work. The humorous passages were sung with delightful vigour and crispness, and much delicacy of treatment distinguished the contrasting phases of the poem. Much of the narrative portion is allotted to a quartette of soloists, and there are some passages of striking beauty, to which effective humming accompaniments are supplied by the chorus.
     Miss Esta D’Argo, Miss Margaret Balfour, Mr. John Adams, and Mr. Thorpe Bates made a capital quartette, and with the orchestra under the leadership of Mr. A. V. Belinski, shared the honours of a really splendid performance.
     The reception was most enthusiastic, and the composer, who himself conducted, was accorded a flattering ovation.


     In a few well-chosen words of acknowledgment Mr. Bath congratulated Cardiff on having such a fine chorus, and expressed himself as being delighted with the performance. He also paid a high tribute to the thorough and efficient work of Mr. Aylward.
     Another interesting feature of the concert was the first performance in Cardiff of Mr. Hamilton Harty’s “The Mystic Trumpeter,” which was produced at the Leeds Festival last year. It is a work in which the composer has succeeded in giving the requisite picturesque treatment to Walt Whitman’s imaginative poem, with its clear, dignified diction. The music is strongly characteristic of several contrasting phases, in turn thoughtful, warmly-coloured, ecstatic, glowing with poetic emotion, despairing in its dismal foreboding, and ultimately prophetic, exuberant, and buoyant. It is a work of academic distinction, and severely taxed the resources of the performers; but on the whole they came out with the utmost credit. The same soloists took part, Mr. Thorpe Bates giving a particularly artistic rendering of the baritone music. Other items of a miscellaneous character made up an unusually enjoyable and successful concert.’

Published by Novello & Co. in 1913, the score is available to download from IMSLP.



The Wedding of Shon McLean. 1910.

Composer: John Duffell (?)

A fourth, perhaps final, ‘Shon McLean’. No information (of the piece or the composer) beyond this concert review from The Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 21st March, 1910:

‘Concert in the Wicker.

     A concert by the members of the newly-formed singing party, conducted by Mr. John Parr, was given in the schoolroom of Holy Trinity Church, Wicker, on Saturday evening, to a moderate but appreciative audience. Some part-songs were well rendered, and the following members contributed solos:—Misses Jessie Stenton, Doris Jackson, Alice Harrison, Grace Cawley, E. Dickman, Ruth Laver, Caroline Lickiss, Beatrice Jones, and Messrs. John Parr and James Croll. Miss Nellie Stenton played a violin solo, and Mr. John Parr a bassoon solo.
     A feature of the evening was the performance of Robert Buchanan’s “Wedding of Shon MacLean,” set to music by Mr. John Duffell, for bass voice, with pianoforte accompaniment and bassoon obbligato. It greatly amused the audience, and Messrs. Croll and Parr had to repeat it. The Vicar (the Rev. W. Todd) presided, and Miss Elma Turner acted as accompanist. The net proceeds were given to the Church Pastoral Aid Society and the Church Missionary Society.’



Buchanan’s Music - continued








The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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