1) Loveliest of trees (A.E Housman) 2) I cannot lose thee for a day (George Meredith) 3) The Crimson Rose (Enid Clay) 4) I hear an army charging (James Joyce) 5) Jour des Morts (Charlotte Mew) 6) She weeps over Rahoon (James Joyce) 7) On a time (Anon) 8) Have you seen but a white lily grow? (Ben Jonson) 9) I dare not ask a kiss (Robert Herrick) 10) Horseman (Gerald Gould) 11) To Daffodils (Robert Herrick) 12) How beautiful is night (Robert Southey) 13) Renouncement (Alice Meynell) 14) I think on thee in the night (Thomas K. Hervey) 15) Faint Heart in a Railway Train (Thomas Hardy) 16) Rose kissed me today (Austin Dobson) 17) Lean out of the window, Goldenhair (James Joyce) 18) Love's secret (William Blake) 19) MS of Benedictbeurn (Carmina Burana) 20) Autumn (Walter de la Mare) 21) The Lost Nightingale (Alcuin) 22) Jenny kiss'd me (Leigh Hunt) 23-28) Six children's songs (Ada Harrison) 29) In the Days of November (Ada Harrison) 30) The Lake Isle of Innisfree W.B. Yeats 31) David's Lament for Jonathan (Peter Abelard) 32) Most Holy Night (Hilaire Belloc) 33) When Death to either shall come (Robert Bridges) 34) Cradle Song (A.C. Swinburne) 35) Violets (George Meredith) 36) Tewkesbury Road (John Masefield )
Ailish Tynan (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor) & David Owen Norris (piano)
LINN CKD 335
I was immediately impressed by the first piece on this CD - a fine setting of A.E.Housman's Loveliest of Trees. It is surely a brave person who dares to write a new version of a song that seems to have had its definitive setting made some dozen or so years earlier by George Butterworth. Yet history suggests that at least ten composers have thrown their hat into the ring with this text. Muriel Herbert's edition of this melancholy text is superb. It adds value to both the words and to the history of setting. There is a simplicity about the music that captures the sense of the transience of life, and there is a freshness and subtlety of the melodic line that does not attempt to parody any previous settings. For me, this is the ‘signature song’ on this disc.
I confess that I had never heard of Muriel Herbert before this CD was released. To be fair, there is no entry in Groves and, although I do not have it in front of me, there is, I believe, no reference in Sophie Fuller’s The Pandora Guide to Women Composers. There is one mention of her in Stephen Banfield’s Sense and Sensibility, and that is only a name check in the middle of a list of composers who had set Housman in the year 1923. The Internet only helps if one knows of the existence of somebody. So, like another ‘lost’ composer Janet Hamilton, Herbert has remained in the shadows- virtually forgotten.
This review is not the place for a full biography of Muriel Herbert, but a little thumbnail sketch may prove of interest.
Muriel Emily Herbert was born in Sheffield in 1897 and grew up in Liverpool in what was a musical household. By 1913 she had abandoned plans to become a concert pianist and had begun to write music – exercises for the piano and song settings of Herrick, Browning, Bridges and Christina Rossetti.
She entered the Royal College of Music in 1917 and under the auspices of composers and teachers such as Roger Quilter and Charles Villiers Stanford she began to develop her own musical voice. She was well read in poetry and had an especial fascination for Y.B. Yeats, Thomas Hardy and James Joyce. For a time, she earned money by teaching before her musical career took off – in a somewhat limited way. Roger Quilter was impressed with her songs and arranged for a number of them to be published. Barbirolli included her Two Violin Pieces in a concert in the 1920s. She also gave broadcasts of her music on the BBC. All this slowly came to an end when Muriel Herbert was married and began to raise a family. The author and historian Claire Tomalin, one of her daughters, writes that from the early nineteen-forties her mother wrote less and less music, although there were a few recitals and she still taught music and composition. The memory of what had been was largely forgotten: it was not discussed with her children. Her confidence as a composer had been lost as new styles of music began to permeate the concert halls and recital rooms.
The songs on this CD are from a wide variety of literary authors. I mention a few that particularly impressed me. These include James Joyce’s Goldenhair,I hear an army charging and She weeps over Rahoon. Ada Harrison, who was a neighbour of Herbert’s provided some charming verse for the set of six Children’s Songs and the haunting In the Days of November. A particular favourite of mine is the great poem by John Masefield, Tewksbury Road. The music is equally as great as the imagery of the words. It is strange that this poem was not set by Gurney or Finzi or Gibbs. Leigh Hunt’s Jenny Kiss'd Me is charming and imaginative. It is invidious to describe all thirty six songs, but I must mention the setting of Thomas Hardy’s Faint Heart in a Railway Train. I am not sure that this has been set before: none is noted Michael Pilkington’s book British Solo Song. Herbert’s setting is subtle, appropriate and quite moving. It captures exactly the mood of Hardy’s ‘what might have been’ poem.
It is difficult to try to suggest the influences that inform Muriel Herbert’s music. When this present CD has ‘sunk in’ to the repertoire and a deal of her music is republished, it will be possible to tie down allusions and references. Certainly, as a pupil of Stanford she has imbibed some of his style and mood. Her infatuation with Roger Quilter (until she realised that he was gay) is the most noticeable stylistic marker, yet even this is not universal. Other notes are present in this music, and it would not be too fanciful to detect echoes of Richard Strauss, Frederick Delius, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. Certainly at the time when Herbert was at the Royal College of Music all these composers would have been part of the regular diet of recitals and concerts.
There is a fascinating essay included in the CD notes by Claire Tomalin, which explores the career of Muriel Herbert and her work. The saddest part is that her mother “spoke very little about the early years and she never showed me any of the songs written when she was young.” Sadly a number of researchers and students did visit her to ask about her ‘famous’ meeting with James Joyce in Paris. However no one cared to see the manuscripts that were the source of the anecdote. It is depressing that Tomalin initially had little success in promoting her mother’s music. After Muriel Herbert’s death in 1984 she “packed up all the papers she had left, and stored them in folders”. She lamented that no one was interested and recalled that one musician, to whom she showed them dismissed the songs with the comment, “Everyone’s mother wrote songs….”
Ailish Tynan and James Gilchrist along with their accompanist David Owen Norris give an impressive and committed performance of these songs. The sound quality is excellent and the presentation of the programme lends itself to listening to this CD in the order presented.
There are further possibilities for future recordings: there are two published pieces for Violin & Piano – Enchanted April and Giboulée, there is possibly an extant Violin Sonata and a number of other songs, either published or unpublished.
On the basis of this present recording, any further exploration of Muriel Herbert’s music is to be welcomed and encouraged.
This is one of my major musical discoveries of the year.
John France July 2009 ©
[With thanks to MusicWeb International]
Moments of Vision
Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses was published by Macmillan in November 1917. Of this collection, "Logs on the Hearth" and "In the Garden" were poems written by Hardy in memory of his sister Mary. In other poems, such as "Joys of Memory" and "To My Father's Violin," he looks back nostalgically at the past, which to him always seems preferable to the present. Similarly, in "Great Things," where Hardy admits to a love for 'sweet cider,' 'the dance,' and 'love' itself, he uses the past tense, as he ends with the words "Will always have been great things."
The theme of Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses, said Hardy, was to 'mortify the human sense of self-importance by showing or suggesting, that human beings are of no matter or appreciable value in this nonchalant universe.' This, as will be seen, was only part of the story, for there are many poems in the collection which relate, inevitably and vicariously, as always, to Emma Gifford [Hardy's first wife]. Had she been alive, she would undoubtedly have been just as offended by them as she had been with Jude the Obscure.
In 1920 publisher Vere H. Collins, during a series of discussions with Hardy at Max Gate, questioned the latter about one of his Moments of Vision poems, namely "The Interloper," which he could not make sense of. It reads as follows:
There are three folk driving in a quaint old
And the cliff-side track looks green and fair;
I view them talking in quiet glee
As they drop down towards the puffins' lair
By the roughest of ways;
But another with the three rides on, I see,
Whom I like not to be there!
No: it's not anybody you think of. Next
A dwelling appears by a slow sweet stream
Where two sit happily and half in the dark:
They read, helped out by a frail-wick'd gleam,
Some rhythmic text;
But one sits with them whom they don't mark,
One I'm wishing could not be there.
No: not whom you knew and name. And now
I discern gay diners in a mansion-place,
And the guests dropping wit—pert, prim, or
And the hostess's tender and laughing face,
And the host's bland brow;
But I cannot help hearing a hollow voice,
And I'd fain not hear it there.
No: it's not from the stranger you once met. Ah,
Yet a goodlier scene than that succeeds;
People on a lawn—quite a crowd of them. Yes,
And they chatter and ramble as fancy leads;
And they say, 'Hurrah!'
To a blithe speech made; save one, mirthless,
Who ought not to be there.
Nay: it's not the pale Form your imagings raise,
That waits on us all at a destined time,
It is not the Fourth Figure the Furnace showed;
O that it were such a shape sublime
In these latter days!
It is that under which best lives corrode;
Would, would it could not be there!
Clearly, the first verse of the poem relates to Hardy's early visits to St Juliot in the 1870s, the 'three folk' in the chaise being himself, Emma and probably Emma's sister, Helen, and the cliffs being probably those in the vicinity of nearby Boscastle. In the second verse, the 'dwelling' may in reality be 'Riverside Villa', Sturminster Newton, Dorset, and the 'stream', the adjacent River Stour. The third verse refers to a mansion, to which Hardy and Emma have been invited for dinner—presumably after he became famous. The 'lawn' referred to in the fourth verse may be the one at Max Gate. All the events described in the above-mentioned poem should, for Hardy, have been happy ones. Instead, because of the presence of the unwanted stranger, they are not. But who was this stranger?
Vere H. Collins asked Hardy to explain the penultimate line: "What is 'that under which best lives corrode?'" To which Hardy replied:
Collins: "In each case?"
Hardy: "Yes. I knew the family."
When Collins suggested that Hardy give "The Interloper" a subtitle, in order to make its meaning clearer, Hardy responded (for the 1923 edition) with "And I saw the figure and visage of Madness seeking for a home." Said Collins: "When Hardy uttered that word ['madness']...there burst on me a revelation"—the subtitle was a reference to Emma. (Hardy, of course, whatever his thoughts, would never have used the word 'madness' openly had Emma still been alive.) Said Collins:
This was the clue. "The Blow," "The Blot," "The Wound" [references to other poems of Hardy's]; the spectre haunting that beautiful girl while she sang and played; the shadow darkening and chilling that passionate union; the lovers struck by an unexpected, unprovoked, undeserved foe; now at last I grasped what...had put an end to happiness in Hardy's marriage and life.
And this is why Hardy 'had tended to concentrate his attention on the tragedies and ironies in love'. But who was "the interloper"—the 'one who ought not to be there' and who corrodes the lives of others? The only interpretation possible is that it was a representation of Emma's alter ego; this being seen by Hardy as a separate entity to Emma, the physical being.
From the first verse, the conclusion, extraordinary as it may seem, must be that Emma was displaying features of insanity even before Hardy married her. (He may only have recognised this with the benefit of hindsight.) And what is equally extraordinary is that he went ahead with the marriage, notwithstanding this fact. And from Hardy's words to Collins—"Madness...I knew the family"—it is clear that it was to Emma's family that the former was referring.
Another poem which Collins mentions above is "The Blow," in which Hardy demands to know why someone had found it necessary 'To have hurled that stone Into the sunshine of our days!'—the days in question being, of course, those which he and Emma had shared together. The answer was that:
No aimful author's was the blow
That swept us prone,
But the Immanent Doer's That doth not know,
Which in some age unguessed of us
May lift Its blinding incubus,
And see, and own:
'It grieves me I did thus and thus!'
(This, of course, was an echo of the "Immanent Will" of The Dynasts.) Collins also mentions Hardy's poem "The Wound," a reference not to any physical wound, but to an inner hurt which he had chosen to keep to himself:
...that wound of mine
Of which none knew,
For I'd given no sign
That it pierced me through.
And when Collins talks about a beautiful girl singing and playing, he is referring to Hardy's poem "At the Piano":
A Woman was playing,
A man looking on;
And the mould of her face,
And her neck, and her hair,
Which the rays fell upon
Of the two candles there,
Sent him mentally straying
In some fancy-place
Where pain had no trace.
A cowled Apparition
Came pushing between;
And her notes seemed to sigh;
And the lights to burn pale,
As a spell numbed the scene.
But the maid saw no bale,
And the man no monition;
And Time laughed awry,
And the Phantom hid nigh.
This poem, of course, is again about Emma (who is known to have played the pianoforte). When Hardy is in her company he is happy, and imagines himself to be in a place where pain does not exist—and by implication, where there is only pleasure. However, a "phantom" (ghost or spectre) appears and intervenes between them. Emma is unaware of the evil and woe ("bale") which the phantom's presence portends, and Hardy fails to recognise its presence as a warning ("monition") of things to come.
In the above three poems, as Collins so rightly guessed, the "stone" in the first, the "wound" in the second, and the "cowled apparition" or "phantom" in the third, were all metaphors for Emma's "madness." Collins might also have mentioned "The Man with a Past," where Hardy alludes to the fact that neither he nor Emma saw the "dart" which was winging its way towards them; another metaphor, undoubtedly, for Emma's insanity:
There was merry-making
When the first dart fell
As a heralding,—
Till grinned the fully bared thing,
And froze like a spell.
Like a spell.
Innocent was she,
Innocent was I,
Too simple we!
Before us we did not see,
Nearing. Aught wry—
It is difficult to be precise about when exactly the penny first dropped and Hardy realised that Emma was insane (or "mad," as he called it). This is because works of his which allude to Emma's insanity were written subsequent to the events which they describe, and therefore with the benefit of hindsight. Nevertheless, by the time he came to write "The Interloper," which was published in late 1917, her "madness" was a fact of which he was certain beyond all doubt.
Of other poems in Moments of Vision, "Honeymoon Time at an Inn" undoubtedly relates to Hardy's own honeymoon. The poem begins ominously:
At the shiver of morning, a little before the false
The moon was at the window-square,
Deedily brooding in deformed decay...
From whence, the atmosphere deteriorates even further:
Her speechless eyeing reached across the
Where lay two souls opprest,
One a white lady sighing, 'Why am I sad!'
To him who sighed back, 'Sad, my Love, am I!'
Suddenly, a "pier-glass" (large, elongated mirror) comes crashing down from the "mantel" and lies shattered on the floor. This, for the lady (Emma), was a portent of "long years of sorrow" for herself and her new husband (Hardy).
"You Were the Sort that Men Forget" begins:
You Were the Sort that Men Forget;
Though I—not yet!—
Perhaps not ever. Your slighted weakness
Adds to the strength of my regret.
You'd not the art—you never had
For good or bad—
To make men see how sweet your meaning,
Which, visible, had charmed them glad.
You would, by words inept let fall,
Offend them all,
Even if they saw your warm devotion
Would hold your life's blood at their call.
In other words, although in Hardy's eyes Emma had some excellent qualities, she had a habit of offending everybody, because in his view, her finer qualities were not discernible to them.
In "The Glimpse," Hardy reveals how the memory of Emma continues to haunt him, even after her death:
She sped through the door
And, following in haste,
And stirred to the core,
I entered hot-faced;
But I could not find her,
No sign was behind her.
'Where is she?' I said:
"Who?" they asked that sat there;
"Not a soul's come in sight."
'A maid with red hair.'
"Ah." They paled. "She is dead.
People see her at night,
But you are the first
On whom she has burst
In the keen common light."
It was ages ago,
When I was quite strong:
I have waited since,—O,
I have waited so long!
Yea, I set me to own
The house, where now lone
I dwell in void rooms
Booming hollow as tombs!
But I never come near her,
Though nightly I hear her.
And my cheek has grown thin
And my hair has grown gray
With this waiting therein;
But she still keeps away!
There are more poems on the theme of lost love and bereavement, which resound with words and phrases such as "my own heart nigh broke," "sorrow wrung" and "mourn," and it requires but little discernment on the reader's part to realise that, as so often is the case, it is about Emma that Hardy is really writing.
In Moments of Vision, Hardy also reveals his morbid side with his references to "death," "mournful mould" (of one deceased), "tombs" and "vaults." This brooding side of his nature cannot entirely be attributed to his failed marriage, for it will be remembered that on his honeymoon he insisted on paying a visit to the Paris morgue. The remainder of the poems deal with such subjects as war and patriotism.
It is now obvious why Hardy chose the title Moments of Vision for this collection of poems, for what the title really means is "Now I see Emma more clearly for what she really was." In other words, Hardy had now come to a full realisation of the true state of mind of his late wife Emma (which he may well have previously been in denial about), even though he lacked the medical knowledge and expertise to make the "diagnosis." Likewise, the title of the poem's predecessor, Satires of Circumstance, translates to "Behold, here I have satirised my unhappy life with Emma," and Time's Laughingstocks translates to "Time has made me a laughingstock."
Late Lyrics and Earlier
Late Lyrics and Earlier was published by Macmillan in May 1922. However, some of the poems in this collection—as the title implies—had been written several years prior to this date. In Hardy's words:
Owing to lack of time, through the necessity of novel-writing for magazines, many of the poems [in this and in other collections] were temporarily jotted down to the extent of a stanza or two when the ideas occurred, and put aside till time should serve for finishing them—often not till years later... This makes it difficult to date those not dated in the volumes.
In the Preface to Late Lyrics and Earlier, Hardy expressed his disappointment that the proposed revisions to the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer had not been "in a rationalistic direction"; according to his wife, Florence, from that time onward "he lost all expectation of seeing the Church [as] representative of modern thinking minds." (In the event, the revisions to which he referred were rejected by the House of Commons in 1927, and again in 1928.)
The fact that the poems included in this volume, unlike many of their predecessors, are less morbid, and display less nostalgia for years past, indicates that Hardy had now become somewhat less dissatisfied with life. Some of them, in fact, are quite jolly; for example, "Weathers":
This is the weather the cuckoo likes,
And so do I...
Hardy's new lease of life is entirely attributable to the presence of Florence. Nonetheless, the past and Emma were never far from his thoughts. In "Faintheart in a Railway Train" Hardy speaks of a lost opportunity to introduce himself to a "radiant stranger"—female, of course—encountered on a station platform. In "The West-of-Wessex Girl" he regrets that the subject of the poem was "never...squired" by him. Judging by the mention of Emma's home town, and that the two never had a romantic relationship, the subject is almost certainly Emma.
The very title of "If It's Ever Spring Again" indicates that for Hardy, those early, happy times in which he spent courting Emma will not come again. In "Two Serenades," written, poignantly, one Christmas Eve, he complains that Emma is indifferent to his overtures of love:
But she would not heed
What I melodied
In my soul's sore need—
She would not heed.
So that finally:
Sick I withdrew
At love's grim hue...
In "The Rift," Hardy refers to "those true tones—of span so brief!"—in other words, to what he remembers as the true Emma, before her "old gamut [musical note 'G'] changed its chime." After this:
So sank I from my high sublime!
We faced but chancewise after that,
And never I knew or guessed my crime...
Hardy could not understand why Emma had changed, and wondered if he was to blame for that change; but if so, in what way?
In a poem entitled, ironically, "Side by Side," the terrible consequences of Hardy's and Emma's union become apparent when the 'estranged two' meet one day, by chance, at church, and find themselves sharing the same pew:
Thus side by side
They seemed united
As groom and bride,
Who's not communed
For many years—
Lives from twain spheres
With hearts distuned.
In "Read by Moonlight" he (Hardy) reads the last letter which Emma had written to him, the last of many such "missives of pain and pine." In "A Gentleman's Epitaph on Himself and a Lady, Who were Buried Together," Hardy appears to anticipate his own death and burial next to his late wife Emma. In the poem, Hardy discloses that although the 'Lady' was and would be his companion forever, she was also a person whom he did not really know:
Not a word passed of love all our lifetime,
Between us, nor thrill;
We'd never a husband-and-wife time,
For good or for ill.
Nevertheless, the fact that he loved Emma is borne out by the poem "The Woman I Met," where he declares:
Well; your very simplicity made me love you
Mid such town dross
Till I set not Heaven itself above you,
Who grew my Cross.
...despite how I sighed for you;
So you tortured me, who fain would have died for you!
Finally, in "Fetching Her," he is in total and absolute despair, as he agonises with himself over whether it might have been better had he not:
...pulled this flower
From the craggy nook it knew,
And set it in an alien bower;
But left it where it grew!
From Thomas Hardy: Behind the Mask, by Andrew Norman, published by The History Press. Copyright © 2011 by Andrew Norman. Used with permission. All rights reserved.