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ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841-1901)

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BUCHANAN’S MUSIC

 

The Syren. 1870.

Composer: Francesco Berger (1834-1933)

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This is the earliest example 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.
      T
HERE 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 (Thursday, 27 April, 1933 - p.14):

PROFESSOR FRANCESCO BERGER
_____

A LINK WITH DICKENS

     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.

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The New Covenant. 1888.

Composer: Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie (1847-1935)

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

“ALEXANDER CAMPBELL MACKENZIE.
     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.

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Meg Blane, a rhapsody of the sea. Op. 48. 1902.
O who will worship the great God Pan? 1910.
 

Composer: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912)

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The brief biography of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor on the 100 Great Black Britons website hints at the difficulties he must have encountered to achieve his position as Britain's foremost black composer of classical music. The Black History & Classical Music site has a more detailed biography and a discography. Neither mention ‘Meg Blane’, his cantata based on Buchanan’s poem, which was premiered in Sheffield on Friday, October 3rd, 1902. The review of the ‘Sheffield Musical Festival’ in The Times of the following day included the following comments:

     “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?’ (the latter from Pan at Hampton Court). 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.

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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.

Concerning the two settings of Buchanan poems composed by Hubert Bath:

The Wedding of Shon McLean ‘A Scottish Rhapsody for Chorus, Soprano and Baritone soloists and Orchestra’:

The Wedding of Shon McLean had been set to music before, possibly by John Liptrot Hatton (1809-1886), according to the following advert from The Times (1st December, 1890):

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However, I’ve found no further confirmation of this, so Hatton’s version remains off this list. It does seem to have been a popular piece at various ‘Scotch Concerts’ in London, mostly celebrating St. Andrew’s Day:

“Mr. Watkin Mills gave “The Wedding of Shon Maclean” with much unction.” (The Times - 3rd December, 1894).

“Messrs. Edward Lloyd, F. Bevan, and Santley received their due measure of applause, and the London Scottish choir, under Mr. J. B. Shaw, sang admirably a number of part-songs, including a very clever and funny arrangement of “The Wedding of Shon Maclean.” (The Times - 2nd December, 1895).

Hubert Bath’s The Wedding of Shon Maclean was first performed at the Queen’s Hall, London on Tuesday, 30th March, 1909.

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

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 Baths’ 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.”

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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.

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The Veil [Based on The Book of Orm]. 1910.

Composer: Frederic Hymen Cowen (1852-1935).

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“Well known in his time as a conductor, pianist and composer, Frederic Cowen was once known as ‘the English Schubert’ for his contribution to English song. He regarded himself as a symphonist, with six symphonies to his credit, but excelled in lighter music, exemplified in the concert overture The Butterfly’s Ball, inspired by a well known children’s poem. More exotic is his Indian Rhapsody, first performed at the Hereford Festival in 1903.”

This brief biographical note is taken from the Naxos site, where it accompanies their release of his 3rd Symphony. More detailed biographies can be found at the Classical Music Web and the Jewish Encyclopedia and he is also included in Charles Willeby’s book Masters of English Music. For the full story of one of England’s forgotten composers and a complete listing of his works, Christopher J. Parker’s Frederic H. Cowen site is the most comprehensive (although the rather garish background is a tad disconcerting). Much easier on the eyes is Cowen’s page on the Jamaica’s Classical Musicians site. Cowen was born in Jamaica on January 29th. 1852, and although he left the island when he was four, it does mean that technically speaking he is one of Jamaica’s forgotten composers. I acquired the picture of Cowen from the Jamaican site, although I must admit I was sorely tempted to use another one that’s on there, of  Sir Frederic Cowen on a cigarette card (ah those were the days). Cowen was knighted in 1911 and died in London on October 6th. 1935.

‘The Veil’, Cowen’s adaptation for soloists, choir and orchestra of Buchanan’s The Book of Orm, was written specifically for the 1910 Cardiff Festival (of which Cowen was the director from 1902 until 1910) and is mentioned in the chapter on Buchanan in Frederick Hackwood’s Staffordshire Worthies:

“It is interesting at the present moment to notice that one of Buchanan’s early works, “The Book of Orm,” published in 1870, has recently been adapted by Dr. F. H. Cowen to form the libretto of his new composition for the Cardiff musical festival. ... Dr. Cowen’s work on the subject is entitled “The Veil,” and is undoubtedly that composer’s masterpiece. It achieved an unqualified success on its production (1910), and would no doubt have delighted Buchanan’s heart could he have lived to hear it.”

The following review is from The Times of Wednesday, 21st September, 1910:

“MUSIC.

THE CARDIFF FESTIVAL.
                                                                                                                     
CARDIFF, SEPT. 20.            

     Dr. Frederic Cowen’s cantata The Veil, which was heard for the first time at ton-night’s concert, is important and interesting from many points of view; but perhaps its greatest importance and interest lies in the fact that the composer has never before attempted a subject of such deep seriousness as that which he has found in the late Robert Buchanan’s poem, “The Book of Orm.” A serious subject, and even a lofty treatment of it, does not of course ensure that the result shall represent a composer’s best work. The remark is a truism, yet it is one which cannot be too often insisted upon; for English composers and English audiences are still too apt to lay stress on mere bigness of design and to forget that a perfect lyric of 16 bars is a greater work than an imperfect oratorio which takes a whole evening to perform. Still when a composer like Dr. Cowen, whose choral works have been mainly of the lighter kind, ventures upon a work of such high purpose as The Veil, and in doing so shows a new command of technical resources as well as unsuspected imaginative power, the work demands peculiar respect and attention.
     The Veil consists of six sections, with a short introduction for orchestra and baritone solo. The first section, “The Veil Woven,” tells
          “How God in the beginning drew
           Over His face the veil of blue.”
The second, “Earth, the Mother,” is a fine description of nature as evidence of the Divine Being, and ends with a soprano solo, “But the people heard not.” Two scenes of more human feeling follow; the first, the vision of the Watcher at the death-bed who saw death withdrawn and mere loss taking its place, and who woke with the words
          “I bless Thee for the wonder of Thy mercy,
           Which softeneth the mystery and the parting.”
The second is a love scene, of which the motto is—
          “Take all the flesh can give,
           .   .   .   .   Take all nor be afraid.”
The title of the fifth scene is “Songs of Seeking”; a long baritone solo, in which the Seeker first glories in the beauty of the world, then sickens at the pains of men, and eventually finds the “Flower of the World,” leads up to a chorus which is the climax of the work in the words—
          “O wonderful Spirit divine!
           That walkest the garden unseen,
           Come hither, and bless, ere it dies
           The beautiful flower of the World.”
Finally a short scene tells of the “Lifting of the Veil,” and ends with a vision
                                     “melting far away,
           Yonder upon the dimmest peaks of Heaven.”
     The mixture of philosophic thought with religious mysticism in the poem is responsible both for a certain inconclusiveness about the work as a whole and for some incongruities in the style of the music. At one moment The Dream of Gerontius comes to mind, at another the philosophic cantatas of Parry, while the love scene recalls some passages in Delius’s Mass of Life. Yet, except for the fact that Dr. Cowen has profited by the orchestral technique and harmonic boldness of the two younger men, it would be impossible to place a finger on any one idea as coming from other minds than his—unless indeed Parry is indirectly responsible for a beautiful phrase of melody which first occurs on the orchestra after the words, “The beautiful master drew the veil,” and which recurs later. This is one of a number of representative themes which are closely connected with the main idea of the veil which hides Divine workings from human sight. Another and more striking one is the harsh discord of a chord of G sharp grinding against a pedal A with which the work opens; and a third is the series of major common chords on D, B flat, and F, returning to D, which are sustained by the strings and have to do with the weaving of the veil. These last two themes, which are constantly kept in mind, show very clearly that it is the mystic atmosphere of the subject which has attracted the composer and upon which he is anxious to rivet the attention of his hearers.
     As a whole the work leaves the impression that he has been over-anxious in the matter. The liberal use of strong discords and chromatic progressions is not in itself to be deprecated except when one is made to feel, as one sometimes is here, that the composer clings to them a little nervously lest his work should become commonplace in diction. They produce a certain monotony of feeling; one begins to long for something more frank and direct—and as a matter of fact there are places where Dr. Cowen might have given it to us with infinite gain in effect. The soprano solo which described “Earth, the Mother” is one of these; and the delicate orchestral introduction, with its simple contrasts between the strings and wood-wind, made one hope that the point of relief was coming, but with the entrance of the voice the music drops back into a more elusive style. The Seeker’s song, too, might have gained much had it been more sustained and lyrical. The most original movement is perhaps the love scene, in which a duet for soprano and tenor is contrasted with the philosophic comments of a quartet (two contraltos, tenor and bass) and the chorus. The warm, human expression of the two solo voices is thrown into strong relief by the more impersonal utterances of the quartet and chorus, and the whole movement, though complex in design, is wonderfully simple in effect. The chorus following the Seeker’s song, with its long accelerando and its imposing climax, is another feature which gives coherence at a point where continuity is essential. But the finale is disappointing, for here the composer falls back upon the kind of effect which he has used before in order to create his vision. It adds very little to what he has already given us; and by the time we reach it his somewhat limited types of chromaticism have become familiar and fail to do their work of transporting us into a new region of thought and feeling.
     A part of the disappointment which one feels in the last movement especially, and in other places throughout the work, is due to the fact that the orchestration is not sufficiently sensitive to give full value to the ideas. Wherever the music is continuous, which is not as often as one could wish, the scoring is rich and effective enough; but in the numerous places where the course of the work is arrested and attention is drawn to the sound of a particular chord, or even to a single note, the colour is often crude. The crudest point of all occurs in the last movement, where a particularly ugly reed stop on the organ was heard in a duet with the tenor voice. Fortunately, however, that is a point which can easily be altered in any subsequent performance.
     The performance, considering the difficulties of the work, was exceedingly good. The choir sang with spirit and assurance, though in several awkward places they lost pitch rather seriously. One of these places was in the big ensemble which ends the love scene; and here the solo quartet, consisting of Mme. Kirkby Lunn, Miss Dilys Jones, Mr. W. E. Carston, and Mr. Herbert Brown, were also at fault in one instance. The duet for soprano and tenor in this number was sung by Mme. Agnes Nicholls and Mr. Walter Hyde, who, while they entered thoroughly into the sensuous interpretation which the composer has given to the words, yet sang with wonderful purity of tone. Their voices blended perfectly in the unison passages, which towards the end are superimposed upon the sustained chords of the chorus with remarkable effect. Mme. Agnes Nicholls’s treatment of the earlier soprano song in “Earth, the Mother” was also exquisitely artistic, especially in the soft, high notes at the end of it, which is one of the most beautiful passages in the whole work. Mme. Kirkby Lunn also made a great success by the sincerity of expression which she gave to the story of the mother whose children were lost by the withdrawal or death from the world. She made one forget the lurking suspicion that the whole of this section of the poem is really founded upon an artificial piece of sentiment rather than on genuine emotion, for she made the whole of it sound human. Mr. Herbert Brown had a congenial task in delivering the beautiful phrases of the introduction and the pathetic soliloquy of the Watcher by the bedside. It was beyond his power or that of any singer to make the song of the Seeker sound altogether convincing; for this is one of the places where the composer changes his style most often, and fails to grasp the inner feeling of the words in consequence.
     It was quite clear that the work made a deep impression upon the audience; for the applause during its course and at the end was evidently the result of real appreciation, and not merely what was due to the popular conductor of the festival. The appreciation was well deserved; for even though the work is uneven, there are points of genuine beauty in every number, and the earnestness of the whole conception and the skill with which it has been carried out place the composer in a stronger light than anything which he has yet written.”

‘The Veil’ was also mentioned in a review of the ‘The Past Year’ in Music in The Times on January 31st, 1910:

     “The provincial festivals gave us two works, one of considerable, and the other of commanding, interest. These are Dr. Cowen’s cantata The Veil, which was heard at Cardiff, and Mr. R. Vaughan Williams’s “Sea Symphony” for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra, which was the principal new work of the Leeds Festival. The chief interest of The Veil rests on the fact that it discovered a fresh and unexpected ability on the part of the composer. He builds very largely upon the foundation of Elgar’s early works, which, as has been already suggested, is a somewhat shifting one, but he builds with great skill. The libretto from Robert Buchanan’s Book of Orm offers ample opportunity to a composer who is attracted by the mingled mysticism and pictorial effect which are the salient characteristics of The Dream of Gerontius; and all who heard The Veil at Cardiff felt that Dr. Cowen had shown remarkable aptitude for dealing with them in the spirit which Elgar initiated in his work of ten years ago. But there is more than the difference of ten years between them is they are considered in relation to their composers; and though the sincerity of Dr. Cowen’s work is beyond question, it is less easy to feel convinced of its complete spontaneity. In a number of passages one is inclined to ask—Is this what the composer feels or merely a faithful illustration of the librettist’s argument?”

And according to the following item, ‘The Veil’ was also performed in October, 1911 at the Queen’s Hall in London:

From The Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand) (9 December, 1911 - p.15)

     One of the greatest musical events in London in October, was the production at the Queen’s Hall of Sir Frederick Cowen’s work, “The Veil,” which sets to music the riddle of existence, as written by Robert Buchanan in his long poem, “The Book of Orm.” “I found the poem quite by accident,” said Sir Frederick. “Many of Buchanan’s poems have been set, but none of them seems to yearn so much for music as this great poem. Its theme is so mightily overpowering that I had to think a long time before I could attempt it. There are words in it that cannot be sung. They come in at the most impressive moment of the poem, called ‘The Lifting of the Veil’—

            “Then in a vision
            The Veil was lifted—
            And the Face was there.

     “The words and the moment are so tremendous that it seemed to me that singing was out of the question. I did not know what to do, until suddenly the idea came to me to let the words be spoken. So those three lines are said by a hundred and fifty voices in a low, mysterious voice, while the orchestra plays a deep, soft, holding note.” Those who have heard “The Veil” declare that the effect of 150 voices speaking as one is awe-inspiring.

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The score of The Veil was published in 1910: London: Novello & Co.; New York: H. W. Gray.

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Fra Giacomo. 1914.

Composer: Cecil Coles (1888-1918)

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The story of Cecil Coles is a familiar one - it’s the story of Wilfred Owen and T.E. Hulme and all the other young artists who lost their lives in the First World War. In Coles’ case the story had a coda. His music and his reputation was largely forgotten until his daughter, towards the end of her own life, went in search of the father she’d never known and found his music in a cardboard box at his old school in Edinburgh. As a result of her efforts a CD of Cecil Coles’ music was released in 2002 on the Hyperion label (‘Music From Behind The Lines’ Hyperion CDA67293) and one of the pieces of music returned to the world was Coles’ setting for baritone and orchestra of Robert Buchanan’s ‘Fra Giacomo’:

“It was at this time that he composed his most important surviving work, Fra Giacomo, a powerful dramatic monologue for voice and orchestra, the revision of which was completed on 23 May 1914. Here is no nostalgic Triste et Gai but a work which searches deeply into our behaviour without fear or favour. Nobody comes well out of it, but the drama and psychology of the situation are masterfully realised, with a frightening insight into the darkest aspects of humanity.”

‘Fra Giacomo’ received its first public performance at a concert on behalf of the Royal College of Music Patron’s Fund at the Queen’s Hall, London on Friday, July 10th, 1914. The review in The Times concluded:

     “The only vocal work was Mr. F. G. Coles’s setting of Robert Buchanan’s “Fra Giacomo,” which Charles Knowles sang. One trembled beforehand at the rashness of the attempt, but was surprised at the amount of success which attended it. Mr. Coles shows one of the rarest gifts among his contemporaries: a talent, we had almost said a genius, for dealing with the English language in music. The music in itself is not peculiarly impressive, but this capacity for setting words aptly and appropriately makes one hope that the composer might have it in him to write a good opera some day.”

Coles died at the age of 29 in 1918. He had volunteered to help bring in some casualties from a wood and was shot by a sniper. His gravestone at Crouy reads:

390653 Bandmaster
C.F.G. Coles
Queen Victoria Rifles
26th April 1918

He was a genius
before anything else,
and a hero
of the first water.

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In The Garden. 1915.

Composer: William H. Spear (? - ?).

I have been unable to find any information about William H. Spear apart from this brief mention of his setting of Buchanan’s poem, “In The Garden”, from The Musical Times (May 1, 1915):

“     In the Garden. Poem by Robert Buchanan. Set to music for soprano and tenor soli, female chorus and orchestra. By William H. Spear. Op. 18.

[Cary & Co.]

     Choral conductors with good female voices available should consider this work. It is highly imaginative music faithfully reflecting the spirit of the poem, with a picturesque orchestral accompaniment. The vocal parts are well written and graceful. Two good soloists are required. “

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Phil Blood’s Leap. 1918.

Composer: Cuthbert Clarke (? - ?)

The 38th Garland of British Light Music Composers has some information about Cuthbert Clarke but omits the fact that he seems to have set various Music Hall monologues (including “The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God”) to music. His setting of Buchanan’s “Phil Blood’s Leap” was published in 1918 by Reynolds & Co.

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The Ballad of Judas Iscariot. 1947.

Composer: Richard Purvis (1913 -1994)

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     “Richard Purvis was born in San Francisco on August 25, 1913. He began piano studies with Mabel Willis at age 6, but soon became fascinated with the organ. He continued his studies with Wallace Sabin and Benjamin Moore of Trinity Episcopal Church, San Francisco. He played the organ at his first service at age 9 in the Trinity Presbyterian Church, San Francisco. Two years later he was a regular organist at St. James Church, Oakland, and the following year appeared in recital at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. He was also fascinated with theater organs and for a time played under the pseudonym “Don Irving” for the weekly Chapel of the Chimes radio show, his theme song being I’ll Take an Option on You.
     Purvis studied at the Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore and then at the Curtis Institute, Philadelphia (1934-1940), studying under Alexander McCurdy and Fritz Reiner, as well as piano studies in New York with Josef Levine. He received the Curtis Memorial Fellowship in 1936, which enabled him to continue his education in England at the Royal School of Church Music, London, with Marcel Dupre in Paris, and at Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight. His principal teachers were Wallace Sabin, Benjamin S. Moore, Alexander McCurdy, David McK. Williams, Charles Courboin, Charles Heinroth (a student of Liszt), Sidney Nicholson and Edward Bairstow.
     His first formal job was as organist/ choirmaster of St. James Church, Philadelphia, and head of the organ and music department at the Episcopal Academy at Overbrook, PA (1937-1941). During World War II he was bandmaster of the 28th Infantry Division. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, he spending the last six months of the war in a German prison camp.
     Returning to San Francisco after the war, he became organist/ choirmaster of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, and then organist/choirmaster of Grace Episcopal Cathedral, a post he held from 1947 until his retirement in 1971. He came to know the organ affectionately as “Gussie!” His search for a steady supply of treble voices for the cathedral choir led to the founding of the Cathedral School for Boys in 1957. He built the cathedral choir, one of a handful of men-and-boy Anglican cathedral choirs in America, into a choir of national renown, ably assisted by his partner, John W. Shields.
     Among his best-known compositions are the Partitia on ‘Christ is Erstanden’, Four Prayers in Tone and Variations on Greensleeves for organ, and The Ballad of Judas Iscariot for choir and organ.
     He died in San Francisco on Christmas Day, 1994.”

(Biography by Michael D. Lampen, Archivist, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.)

Further information about Richard Purvis is available from the San Francisco Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (Newsletter July/August 2003).

Although there are several recordings by Richard Purvis (there’s a discography on the Grace Cathedral site), The Ballad of Judas Iscariot is not among them. The 51 page score of this “cantata for solo voices and mixed chorus with organ or piano” was published by Elkan-Vogel (Philadelphia) in 1947.

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Soliloquy For Autumn [Includes The Ballad of Judas Iscariot]. 1969.

Composer: Donald Swann (1923-94)

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Donald Swann is probably best known as the piano-playing half of the comic musical duo, Flanders & Swann, who were very popular in Britain in the 1950s and 60s. However he was also a prolific composer of musicals, opera, song-cycles, choral and sacred music. The Buchanan connection occurs in ‘Soliloquy For Autumn’. Leon Berger’s excellent Donald Swann website provides the following information on the piece:

“SOLILOQUY FOR AUTUMN

A word-and-music sequence for the fall of the year; a meditation in prose by Donald Swann which links a cycle of five songs for tenor and baritone soloists, narrator and SATB chorus.The texts used are: October Song (Aaron Kramer), Equinox (Laurie Lee), Judas Iscariot (Robert Williams Buchanan), Ruler of All (St Luke trans. Ronald Knox).”

Leon Berger kindly provided these extra details:

“Donald composed it around November 1969 and his setting of it (stanzas 29-35, 42-49) lasts about three minutes. There are no commercial recordings of it, but several private (ie live ones). He and his choir performed it on the BBC TV programme SEEING & BELIEVING filmed at Malpas, Cheshire (BBC recorded 27 Sept 1973, transmitted 21 Oct 1973).”

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The Ballad of Judas Iscariot. 2004.

Composer: Paragon Impure.

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Released on the EP, In Commemoration of Ish Kerioth, this version of The Ballad of Judas Iscariot by Belgian ‘black metal’ band Paragon Impure uses stanzas 24 to 28 of the poem. The 7 minute track is available for download from the Black Metal War site and further information about the band is available at the Encyclopaedia Metallum.

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Judas Iscariot. 2005.

Composer: Paul Pilott.

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‘Judas Iscariot, The Church Cantata’, was composed by Paul Pilott to commemorate the Centenary celebrations of St. Mary’s Church, Alverstoke, Gosport and received its first performance there on Sunday 10th July, 2005. There is a website devoted to the work which includes two brief extracts from this performance and the following ‘Composer's Note’:

“This work is written to commemorate the centenary celebrations of St. Mary’s Church, Alverstoke, Hampshire, England and is inspired by the Poem ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’ written by Robert Buchanan (1841-1901). The text herein is by Philip Barker using some of the ideas and images portrayed in the Buchanan poem. In performance, it is recommended that the children’s chorus and pianist be set apart from the SATB choir and organ. If space allows, the other soloists may be placed in different parts of the church and the Tenor Soloist may move about as Judas’ ‘journey’ progresses, beginning at a distance from the other performers and arriving in the same area as the Bass (Christ) for the closing sequence.”

The website also includes biographical information about the composer and a review of the first performance, which is also available on CD.

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Song of the Slain. 2009.

Composer: Douglas DaSilva.

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‘Song of the Slain’ for soprano and piano was performed at Jan Hus Church, 351 East 74th Street, New York on Sunday, April 26th 2009 by Angela Scherrar (soprano) and Alexandra Frederick (piano) as part of  the Vox Novus Composer’s Voice concert series.

Douglas DaSilva is a composer, guitarist, performer and educator in New York City. His pieces ‘Sarabande’ for flute & guitar and his electronica piece ‘Contrails’ have been featured in the Vox Novus’ 60X60 project. ‘How to Create A Totalitarian State’ was performed as part of the 60X60 Munich mix at A•Devantgarde festival Königsplatz München und Hochschule für Musik und Theater. The pieces ‘Dovedale’ and ‘The Potteries of Stoke’ for solo clarinet were performed by Stuart King as part of Composition Today’s January 2007 workshop. The piece ‘Reason Why? Because.’ was recorded by Joel Garthwaite for Composition Today’s September 2007 workshop for solo soprano saxophone. His solo clarinet piece ‘Midlands’ was premiered by Joshua Rubin with the New York Miniaturist Ensemble at the Brooklyn Center for New Music. His ‘Suite Brasileiro’ is regularly performed by Duozona, the guitar and flute duet of Chuck and Theresa Hulihan. Most recently, his pieces ‘SilvaChrome’ for harp, flute & viola; ‘Century X’ for harp flute, viola & oboe; ‘Evora’ for solo viola; ‘Second Wind’ for oboe, clarinet and bassoon; ‘Seedlings’, 12 miniatures for solo guitar, were performed as part of the Composer’s Voice Concert Series in New York City by Amy Berger,harp; Robert Botti, oboe; Stefanie Taylor, viola; Theresa Thompson, flute; Heather Thon, clarinet; Kurt Toriello, guitar; Laura Vincent, bassoon.

 

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Buchanan's Other Composers

 

Walter Slaughter (1860-1908)

The wonderfully named Walter Slaughter (who also had a daughter) provided incidental music for at least two of Buchanan’s plays:

Lady Clare (1883): “A word must be said for the music played during the piece, which was of exceptional merit, the orchestra being conducted by that popular young composer, Mr Walter Slaughter.”

The Bride of Love (1890): “a musical dramatic poem of signal merit, the music being composed by Dr. A. C. Mackenzie and Mr. Walter Slaughter, the clever composer of  ‘Marjorie.’”

And Robert Buchanan also had a hand in the libretto of Walter Slaughter’s opera, Marjorie:

From The Scotsman (13 December, 1889 - p.5)

     The next comic opera at the Prince of Wales’ Theatre was to have been written by Mr Burnand, with music by Planquette, but it is now decided that “Marjorie,” the book by Messrs Dilley and Lyne, with music by Mr Walter Slaughter, shall be produced on January 11th. A melancholy interest attaches to the libretto, as Mr Lyne, a well-known dramatic critic, the author of several plays, and associated with Mr Charles Dickens in the editorship of Household Words, died only ten days ago. The book will now, I understand, be edited and in some measure rewritten by Mr Robert Buchanan. “Marjorie” will not be quite new to the stage, for it was given at a matinee on the 18th of last July. Mr Hadyn Coffin will return to the scene of his triumphs in “Dorothy,” and the part of the hero Wilfred will be sustained by Miss Agnes Huntington. The Prince of Wales Company, as at present constituted, will fill the remainder of the cast.

From The Stage (20 December, 1889 - p.9)

     The cast of Marjorie, when that opera is produced at the Prince of Wales’, will contain the names of Miss Camille D’Arville, Miss Phyllis Broughton, Mr. Ashley, Mr. H. Monkhouse, Mr. Hayden Coffin, and Miss Agnes Huntington. The latter will play the tenor-rôle, the music of which has been transposed to suit her voice. Mr. Coffin will take up the part of the Earl, originally played at the trial matinée by Mr. F. Celli. The young baritone vocalist will have a better chance for acting than he has had for some time, and should make the most of it. Robert Buchanan is revising the libretto, and fitting it for, I hope, a long run.

*

In February 1886, Harriett Jay played the title role in a one-act ‘lyrical romance’ entitled Sappho, written by Harry Lobb and composed by Walter Slaughter. There’s a review in the Harriett Jay section of the site which contains the following mention of Slaughter’s score: “..... the music of Mr. Walter Slaughter is exceptionally good—it is nervous, dramatic, and it tells the story. By itself, it is a poem; allied to worthless words it loses half of its poetic charm.”

*

More information about Walter Slaughter is available on the British Musical Theatre site and wikipedia.

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F. W. Allwood

In 1893 Buchanan produced The Pied Piper of Hamelin: a fantastic opera with music by F. W. Allwood. I’ve come across very little information about F. W. Allwood. There’s this quote from A 248th Garland Of British Light Music Composers:

“Also from the English musical stage and from roughly the same period was F.W. Allwood, who made his living as a musical director of a touring company but who also composed the scores of two stage works with a wide time interval between their respective appearances. First came the opera bouffe, Haymaking, or The Pleasures of Country Life, toured in 1877, then in 1893 The Piper of Hamelin was put on at the Vaudeville Theatre as a children’s Christmas entertainment.”

And a couple of items from The Era, one from a review of When London Sleeps at the West London Theatre, from 17th July, 1897, which includes the following:

“The descriptive medley and overture have been specially composed and arranged by Mr F. W. Allwood, musical director of the Surrey Theatre.”

And this mention, from 29th September, 1900, of a one-act play performed at The Elephant And Castle Theatre as a companion piece to The Showman’s Sweetheart:

“The principal piece is followed by an original comedy-drama in one act entitled R.F. and M.F., with incidental music by Mr Fred W. Allwood, the author, Mr Clarence Hague, appearing as Detective Hezekiah Hurlock Sholmes; Capt. Gerald Gambier as Richard Ferndale; Miss Violet Auberies as Betsy Sholmes; and Miss Frances White as Mary Ferndale.”

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Florian Pascal (pseudonym of Joseph Williams) (1847-1923)

Florian Pascal wrote the music for The Maiden Queen, a comic opera in two acts, written by Buchanan and Harriett Jay. It was given a copyright performance at Ladbroke Hall, London on 6th April, 1905. There is more information about The Maiden Queen in the ‘Other Plays’ section of the site. It is set in the future (the 1970s) when women have taken over the country. The libretto of The Maiden Queen was published by Joseph Williams, Ltd. in 1908. Florian Pascal was the son of the founder of the music publishing firm. He wrote a number of operas and burlesques, among them, Cymbia (1883), The Vicar of Wide-a-Wakefield (1885), Gypsy Gabriel (1887), Tra-la-la Tosca (1890), Lady Laura's Land (1895), The Black Squire, or Where There's a Will There's a Way (1896), The Jewel Maiden (1898), Sally, or the Boatswain’s Mate (1903) and In Wonderland (1908). He also wrote over 200 songs and various piano and orchestral pieces.
(Information from
A 39th Garland of British Composers.)

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And finally, two mentions in The Graphic of Buchanan songs by female composers, whose biographical details I have been unable to find.

Lady Baker

From The Graphic (23 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.

[The lyrics for Lady Baker’s song, Dreaming, are presumably taken from Buchanan’s poem The Bachelor Dreams, published in The Argosy (No. 6, May 1866).]

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Emily J. Troup

From The Graphic (19 July, 1884)

     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.

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Buchanan: The Musicals

There have been at least two musical versions of Buchanan’s plays.

1. Tulip Time

Tulip Time, a musical comedy by Worton David, Alfred Parker, Bruce Sievier and Colin Wark, was based on the 1895 play The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown, written by Robert Buchanan and ‘Charles Marlowe’. Tulip Time was produced at the Alhambra Theatre, London on August 14, 1935, where it ran for 425 performances. The Guide to Musical Theatre has a full list of songs and characters, and this brief synopsis of the plot:

“The story deals with three young men disguised as girls loose in a girls’ school in search of beloveds: a young airman has married a ward-in-chancery only to see her hurried off back to school; a friend of his taken by a friend of hers; and a goofy aristocrat called Piggy who finds comical love while helping them out.”

Reviews of Tulip Time are available in the Theatre Reviews section of the site and there’s also a copy of the programme.

 

2. The Knight Was Bold

The Knight was Bold, a musical comedy by Harriett Jay, Emile Littler and Thomas Browne, music by Harry Parr Davies, lyrics by Barbara Gordon and Basil Thomas, was based on the ‘Charles Marlowe’ farce, When Knights were Bold, which, in turn, was originally a Buchanan/Jay collaboration from 1896, called Good Old Times (or In Days of Old). After a successful provincial tour (under the title, Kiss the Girls), The Knight was Bold opened at the Piccadilly Theatre in London on 1st July, 1943 and closed after only ten performances.

More information about The Knight was Bold (including reviews and a copy of the programme) is available in the When Knights were Bold section of the site.

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A couple of final notes:

1. While googling for Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Meg Blane I clicked on a page and found myself reading the following:

"My first glimpse of Coleridge-Taylor was in the streets of Hanley on the occasion of the production during the festival of The Death of Minnehaha. (In my kindness, I was a deputising cellist in Utopia while my friend had the greater honour of playing in the festival.) A young Negro, bright and alert, passed by, accompanied by a lady whom I knew afterwards to be his wife. Both were strikingly winsome, and with Hiawatha in mind, I pictured them as journeying to the wedding feast. Some years later I was chatting with him at the rehearsal before the performance of his cantata Meg Blane, which some of my friends had arranged. He talked of many things that interested him, and incidentally described his home life as any elysium on earth."

It was one of those 'internet moments' when one feels one has stumbled across some hitherto hidden pattern in the weave of the world. I should explain to those not from ‘the Potteries’ that Hanley is one of the six towns that make up the City of Stoke-on-Trent. The explanation of course was quite simple, the page I was reading was on a website about the composer, Havergal Brian, who was born and bred in Stoke. But, the image of Coleridge-Taylor wandering the streets ‘up ’anley’, just a couple of miles from the village of Caverswall, where Robert Buchanan was born, just struck me as quite sublime.

2. On 11th November 2003 the BBC broadcast a programme on Radio Four about Cecil Coles entitled ‘Out of the Shadows’. It included interviews with Coles’ daughter, and the various musicians responsible for the ‘Music From Behind The Lines’ CD. Among the surviving works of Cecil Coles are an overture to Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’ and settings of Verlaine and Browning, and in the programme each writer was mentioned. However, when it came to ‘Fra Giacomo’, which was described as Coles’ masterpiece, the name of Robert Buchanan did not crop up at all. Very odd.

 

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