Songs of Muriel Herbert - Musical Pointers
14 April 2009Musical Pointers
Peter Grahame Woolf
You just might have noted Muriel Emily Herbert's name in passing if you'd chanced upon Music Web's 2002 survey Some Women Composers - "Muriel Herbert's titles included Violets, Fountain Court, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, Contentment, Have You Seen But a White Lily Grow? and the familiar Housman words Loveliest of Trees: clearly her taste in lyrics was above the average." That is all...
She had studied with Stanford at the Royal College of Music. A few of her songs were published in the '20s and James Joyce thought her settings of his poems were "much too good for the words"! With motherhood, and at a time of disinterest in women composers, her musical career faded into oblivion.
This collection of mostly unpublished songs from the '20s and '30's is a treasure trove, re-discovered by her daughter, noted biographer Claire Tomalin, who had packed away all her papers upon Muriel Herbert's death in 1984; no-one was interested in them - ‘Everyone's mother wrote songs...' she was told (mine included !). But a little interest surfaced later, first in a radio programme by a former pupil who had been taught by her when he was a boy soprano and who eventually produced this disc...
This wonderful CD is the eventual outcome. It is not just Muriel Herbert's taste in poetry that was exceptional; so was her unselfconscious ease in prosody, the setting of words to music, which made me think of Hugo Wolf's.
This has been an altogether happy project, with both Ailish Tynan and James Gilchrist in fine voice, supported ideally by David Owen Norris. These are honest songs that should find a welcome in anyone's recital. There is emotion which never becomes mawkish, and wit a-plenty.
I greatly regret not having been able to come across Herbert's Children's Songs to Ada Harrison poems when I was trawling the publishers and libraries for repertoire for my boy singer son Simon; they are just as good as Malcolm Williamson's A Child's Garden which he recorded.
You can access on Linn's website full information including sound samples of all the songs, two of the shortest Children's Songs, Merry-Go-Round and The Bunny complete. The songs are now archived at the British Library.
Related LinksJames GilchristSongs of Muriel Herbert