Until the 1870s there were a number of different musical forms which could be found in songs labelled as 'popular' or 'drawing-room ballads': Shield's 'The Wolf is a through-composed aria; Moore's 'The Last Rose of Summer' is a strophic air; Bishop's 'Home, Sweet Home!' has verse and refrain; Horn's 'Cherry Ripe' is a roundelay (rondo); Russell's 'The Maniac' is like an entire operatic mad scene. Minstrel forms have been dealt with in Chapter 4, and sacred styles in Chapter 5. 'Respectable' music-hall ballads are considered in Chapter 9, and Tin Pan Alley (which develops its own distinctive style later) awaits discussion in Chapter 10.
Together with the variety of forms went a variety of subject matter. A great many songs concern themselves with character, predominantly that of the adult male. In the category of songs about working men are found musical portraits of blacksmiths, bell-ringers, watchmen, and bandits, but never factory workers. No bourgeois wished to be reminded of factory hands during a musical evening. Usually a character study formed the basis of an 'improving' ballad, a song which contained a moral lesson. Genteel love songs might be romantic serenades like Bishop's 'The Bloom Is on the Rye', jilt songs like Claribel's 'Won't You Tell Me Why, Robin?', or songs of separation and death like Ascher's 'Alice Where Art Thou?' Songs of social concern are dealt with in Chapter 9 and patriotic songs in the one before. Disaster songs given the gran scena treatment remained fitfully popular into the 1890s. When the marketing emphasis began to shift, in the late 1860s, from songs which were aimed at the performing forces available for domestic music-making to songs which were promoted by professional singers at fashionable concerts, duets and songs with a harmonized chorus steadily de- clined. Religious ballads moved away from biblical episodes in favour of visionary experiences. They took on a marked secular quality as their musical style became indistinguishable from the other ballads with which they vied for success in the ballad boom of the 1880s.
Betore discussing the songwriters who dominated the ballad boom, it would be helpful to look at three songs which show the diversity of approach in the composition of elevated 'art-ballads' during the mid-century. Each song was enormously 'popular'; yet none of the composers looked upon their formal design as a formula for success. The main reason for this lies in the composer's attitude to the text: each song is a setting of a poem conceived with no musical treatment in mind. Once the professional lyric writer emerges, then it becomes easier to [134/135] duplicate procedures and engineer effects. Claribel, writing her own verse, took advantage of this fact; and her commercial success pointed the way ahead for others to adopt the strategy in a more blatant manner.
'The Wreck of the Hesperus' is a setting by John Hatton, dating from 1853, of Longfellow's poem written after hearing news of the tragedy in 1839 [performance by the author]. Hatton has abbreviated the poem by omitting six of the original twenty-two four-line stanzas. The only other change has been to substitute 'Oh!' for 'Christ' in the final stanza so as not to offend propriety. Longfellow labels his poem a ballad, and in doing so harks back to Bishop Percy: the direct influence of'Sir Patrick Spens' is present in some stanzas. Hatton cannot hope to do justice to the dramatic narrative, however, by writing a self-consciously ancient air. In unaccompanied song a singer can provide immense variety of pace and vocal tone; but no piano accompaniment can hope to compete with the flexible nuances of the human voice in sixteen stanzas of identical melody. Hatton, therefore, opts for the gran scena approach, responding to the text in a dramatic manner and making use of musical motives for unity.
The extract on the previous page shows the use of piano chords to mimic the skipper's laughter, descending arpeggios for the rain, vigorous counterpoint for the schooner's shuddering, and a sudden loud chord to indicate the shock of its leaping. Other effects follow in plenty: imitation of the fog bell, dramatic pauses, a tense operatic tremolando, hymn-like chords as the maiden prays, rushing downward scales as the vessel sinks, et al. Some examples of the way Hatton organizes motivically are given below.
'The Village Blacksmith' (1854; performance by author) is a setting by the singer Willoughby Weiss of another Longfellow poem. It is an example of the improving ballad: the blacksmith's personality and way of life are held up as a model to all. Weiss decides, however, that the explicit didacticism of the final stanza is unsuitable for musical treatment.
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou has taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.
This leaves him with seven stanzas of six lines each. The six-line stanza does not lend itself so readily to music as the four-line stanza: a sixteen-bar melody in four-bar phrases is one thing, but six regular phrases per musical period is another and can come to sound monotonous. Weiss does not avoid this pitfall; his entire song is in four-bar phrases. On a broader level, his setting is given shape by the use of a refrain melody for the last four lines of stanzas 2, 4, and 7; stanza 7, in fact, repeats the whole melody of stanza 2. Elsewhere melodic and rhythmic reminiscences lend a feeling of unity.
Concern for unity is not as pronounced as in Hatton's work; it is the narrative which mostly controls the musical form, prompting a variety of short-lived descriptive effects. Weiss even seeks to reinforce Longfellow's simile of the blacksmith's anvil and the sexton's bell by providing imitations of both in the acompaniment.[137/138]
In stanza 5, the form is dictated by the presence of the 'Old Hundredth' ('All People That on Earth Do Dwell') to accompany the scene in church.
This drawing-room tribute to the poor but honest hard-working individual appeared in the same year that saw the defeat of the massive strike by textile workers in Preston. The song may have helped to reassert bourgeois values about the nobility and godliness of work after the recent onslaught from the forces of organized labour.
Balfe's 'Come into the Garden, Maud' (Performance by present author; 1857) is a setting of part of Tennyson's monodrama Maud (published in 1855). Even admirers of the poet were taken aback by his thinly veiled war-mongering in this work. Neither this aspect of Maud, nor any semblance of the morbid, unstable hero who delivers the verse is evident in Balfe's song. It was written for the renowned tenor Sims Reeves, who [138/139] first performed it at a morning concert. Balfe's word-setting has been unjustly criticized (see, for example, Pearce 196). In particular, his omission of the word 'Rose' in 'Queen Rose of the rosebud garden of girls' seems less like carelessness than a deliberate step taken to enable an abrupt modulation to achieve its maximum impact. In days when Tennyson's verse might first appear in a newspaper, Balfe's behaviour might not have seemed cavalier; in later years it seemed unforgivable. The example below shows a common Edwardian emendation: the word 'Queen' is placed on the upbeat whereas it had previously occurred simultaneously with the change of harmony at the beginning of the next bar.
Balfe is accused of breaking the sense of two later lines.
However, the disjointed melodic line is demanded by the singer's need to breathe. Balfe does his best to overcome the problem by breaking off on a suspension so that the dissonance propels the tune through the gap to resolve on the upbeat of the next phrase. Balfe, too, should be given credit for tackling verse which represented a continuation of the experiments in varying metrical structure which Tennyson had embarked on in In Memoriam (1850).
Balfe's musical structure is the old-fashioned roundelay. He was an ex-pupil of Charles Horn, and the structure of his teacher's most famous song ('Cherry Ripe') probably struck him as eminently suited to his purpose. The invitations to come into the garden are treated in the manner of a rondo theme so that the song falls into the pattern ABACA. Sections B and C are contrasted in key and melodic material. Balfe's masterstroke, the cause of his song's creating much present-day [139/140] mirth, is his dramatic conclusion. The final A section is interrupted in mid-flow by a sudden diminished seventh chord and Maud's steps are heard accelerating towards the singer. Unfortunately, the contrast between the rapid 'oompahs' of the piano and the singer's reference to Maud's 'airy' tread requires earnest use of the imagination's powers of reconciliation.
[140/141] Balfe's heartbeats are more convincing; but the saving grace is the allegro coda which has the singer passionately holding longer notes against the 'come into the garden' theme in the piano part. It was a device not lost upon Joseph Ascher, who found an opportunity to do something similar in his setting of Wellington Guernsey's 'Alice, Where Art Thou?' in 1861.
When John Boosey took the decision to establish London Ballad Concerts at St James's Hall in 1867, the consequences for the drawing-room ballad were far reaching. The diversity of approach which has been seen in the ballads analysed above was to gradually give way to a more predictable format. Chappell's 'popular concerts' were a miscellaneous assortment of old and new music, vocal and instrumental, but Boosey & Co. were determined to concentrate on the drawing-room ballad and, indeed, helped to define this genre in the shape of the songs they chose to promote in their concerts. From the 1870s onward a distinction needs to be made between the drawing-room ballad and other forms of bourgeois domestic song. The term now suggests a loftier, artier conception, as befitted its performance by internationally famous concert artists. This new meaning works to exclude songs of a more intimate manner and simpler form, the product of the blackface minstrels or the respectable music-hall entertainer. The ideology of progress in bourgeois concert music prohibited a return to the simple harmonies and textures of'Home, Sweet Home!'
When Chappell & Co.'s fortunes began to wane, later in the century, they learnt from Boosey's success and started their own rival series of ballad concerts in 1894. But by then the most flourishing and innovative years for the drawing- room ballad were past. In the decade 1880-90 a large number of celebrated ballad singers were at the height of their powers; furthermore, these years saw the ballad apparently exhaust its formal possibilities. In the 1890s the ballad had become a standardized commodity: the industry wanted confirmation of taste, not change, and composers and lyricists tended only to look for new ways to tread familiar ground rather than to seek fresh pastures. With the arrival of the ballad concert, composers found their songs introduced in an overtly competitive manner, awaiting an instant verdict from the audience. If a song was well received, Boosey would lose no time in making this known, advertising its title on the back pages of the latest copies of sheet music. Composers were tempted to take stock of what was vigorously applauded by the middle-class audience at St James's Hall, and to try to recapture that admiration and its subsequent financial reward by writing something similar next time. The rest of this chapter will explore the output of the four enduringly popular ballad composers of the latter half of the nineteenth century, and the ways in which they attempted to reshape the elements of a successful ballad.
Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1842-1900) was the son of the bandmaster at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. As a boy he sang in the choir of the Chapel Royal; later, he studied at the Royal Academy of Music and Leipzig Conservatory. His first steady work was as a church organist in London, and he began to build a reputation in the concert hall as a composer. He supplemented his income by teaching and (later) conducting. Before Boosey & Co. began their ballad concerts, Sullivan had failed to see the potential financial returns from composing [141/142] ballads: for example, he had sold his popular 'Orpheus with His Lute' to Metzler for £5 outright in 1866. On joining Boosey & Co., he arranged for publication on the basis of the royalty system. He also chose his dedicatees with care: a dedication to a famous singer, such as Mme Sainton-Dolby or Mr Sims Reeves, would enhance a song's chances considerably.
Sullivan was the most melodically imaginative and rhythmically varied of ballad composers; and he was one of the few to give a measure of independent character to his accompaniments. Yet, even in Sullivan's work, patterns of successful ballads are reused. One of his most well-known songs, 'Let Me Dream Again' (published by Boosey in 1875), follows the design of a ballad he had written five years earlier, 'Looking Back' (words by Louisa Gray). He had already tried setting a new text by Gray as a companion piece to the latter, called 'Looking Forward', in 1873. Now he chose to reuse its musical form: both songs are cast in slow triple time, verse sections are delivered in a minor key, while the refrain uses the tonic major. Use of the tonic major, rather than the conventional relative major, produces a tender and poignant effect, particularly when the tempo slows and the dynamic level falls. See examples 15 and 16.
After a few bars, the piano lends passionate support to the voice in octaves. The last phrase is broadened from an anticipated four bars to five and allows for | flexibility on the singer's part. See examples 17 and 18.
Sullivan favours verse and refrain form in his songs of the 1870s, undoubtedly aware that the tuneful refrain of a song like 'Sweethearts' (published by Chappell in 1875) was a major factor in its success. However, when he came to compose his most famous ballad, 'The Lost Chord' (performance by author; published by Boosey in 1877), he found the poem unsuitable for this treatment. Sullivan had an affinity for poetry by Adelaide Procter (1825-64); the year following her early death he composed a setting of 'Will He Come?', the last lines of which can be read as an obituary: [142/143]
There was only a sound of weeping From watchers around a bed, But rest to the weary spirit, Peace to the quiet dead!
His setting of this poem was in verse and refrain form, but it contained a harmonically adventurous and rhythmically agitated section preceding the final refrain. Sullivan may have recollected this when tackling 'The Lost Chord'. Legend has it that he was inspired to write it while watching at the bedside of his fatally ill brother.3 By coincidence, the famous contralto Antoinette Sterling approached Sullivan with a request to set these verses. It received its first performance at a ballad concert, sung by Sterling, accompanied by Sullivan at the piano and Sydney Naylor at the organ. Its subsequent popularity was tremendous; in sheet-music sales it reached a figure of half a million before the end of the century. Yet an occasional contemporary had voiced doubts about its equalling the success of his earlier ballads; and Sullivan himself is said to have handed the manuscript to Sterling with the words 'It won't be a success, I'm [143/144] afraid' (Simpson 151). Two years later, it was not only being sung all over Britain, but was also 'echoing in a thousand drawing rooms' in the United States, according to the New York Herald.5
'The Lost Chord' demands the space of a large drawing room for performance, ' even if the harmonium part is ignored. The widely spaced, sonorous chords at the grandiose climax will sound at their best on a grand piano; the harmonium player is instructed to pull out all the stops at this point, a sound which would drown out the cottage upright. Sullivan uses the harmonium to skilful dramatic effect: he blends it in with the piano in the introduction; he silences it for the first stanza, bringing it back to add colour to the words 'great Amen'; he gives it sole charge of the second stanza, playing light ethereal textures; then, after a few gentle bars of the third stanza, he silences it again ensuring maximum effect for its reappearance at the climax. The piano part shows equal imagination: the introduction and the interlude after the first stanza are written in the traditional contrapuntal texture of Anglican organ music; Sullivan thus avoids the predictability of giving dominance to the harmonium in these passages.
In the first stanza the piano gradually gathers rhythmic impetus ('my fingers wander'd idly'); sustained chords give way to a hymnlike accompaniment, the vocal melody being first reinforced in the middle of the texture and then rising to the top. In the third stanza the piano becomes increasingly agitated, tension being generated by insistently repeated notes. This whole stanza is really one long crescendo, in spite of containing the words 'trembled away into silence'. The effective use of the full sonorous range of the piano during the climax has already been noted. The crescendo may seem a cheap and obvious way of stimulating a emotion, but the sustained use of the device, as seen in this ballad, was unparalleled in Sullivan's output and unknown in the ballads of his contempor- aries (though not for long). The most banal effect in 'The Lost Chord' is the use of a traditional 'amen' decoration at the close of the introduction and in the song's final bars, although Frank Romer is happy to repeat this same musical cliche in his own later setting of the poem.
Striking use is made of harmony. There are some unusual pedal points set against passing chromatic chords, for example, the inner pedal at 'It quieted pain and sorrow'. [144/145]
There is a dramatic use of mixolydian modal harmony on the repeat of 'Like the sound of a great Amen'.
There is an expressive use of the dominant minor ninth at 'I have sought but I seek it vainly.'
The harmony contributes much of the emotional impact of the song and sometimes dictates an unusually chromatic melodic line: ten of the twelve possible notes of the chromatic scale are used at 'I know not what I was playing, Or what I was dreaming then', and they are difficult to pitch correctly without the help of the piano accompaniment. [145/146]
In the second part of the third stanza it is the voice part which dictates the chromatic harmony, the melody being designed around the idea of falling semitones. See Example 22 and its continuation below.
Apart from the unusual degree of chromaticism which appears in the tune, its first few bars are equally unusual in being largely a monotone (again emphasizing the underlying harmony); they are suggestive of Anglican chant.
These repeated notes find a subtle echo in the piano accompaniment at the beginning of the third stanza.
It was probably the presence of these unconventional melodic features which made Sullivan doubtful about the ballad's success; they certainly question the idea of there being a successful formula.
The text of 'The Lost Chord' introduces a theme that lyric writers during the [146/147] Great Depression of the 1880s and early 90s were to return to frequently — the fleeting foretaste of something heavenly. In 'The Lost Chord' it is the sound of celestial harmony. In fairness, Procter only goes so far as to suggest that it may be a chord from heaven; later writers were prepared to assert the truthfulness of their visions more forcefully. The bourgeoisie were not interested in religious mysticism, however. The appeal of 'The Lost Chord' lies not in its depiction of a numinous experience, but in conveying a feeling of loss ('I have sought, but I seek it vainly') and an optimistic faith in death as the final comforter and the solver of all mysteries. In the later century a fondness for suggesting that problems of poverty, misery, and injustice could only be resolved in heaven took over from the earlier recommendations to trust in providence.
A sense of loss also pervades 'Sometimes', Sullivan's other ballad success of 1877. It was written for the tenor Edward Lloyd who had made 'Sweethearts' so popular. Here the elusive sound is the imagined voice of a lost loved one. Sullivan returns to verse and refrain form: the tune of the refrain, by now predictably, begins softly and gently and is then reinforced by passionate octaves on piano. He does, however, continue his harmonic adventurousness, making a distant modulation in the verse, and colourful use of chromatic harmony in the refrain. His sense of drama is still keen as he contrasts the tranquil evening with the heart leaping joyfully at the imagined sound of the 'well-known voice' in simple but evocative piano textures. Sullivan's dramatic skill was now at its peak: the following year saw the production of HMS Pinafore, the work which made Gilbert and Sullivan into an institution. As a result, Sullivan's ballad output dropped to less than half a dozen in the 1880s, although these included 'A Shadow' (published by Pater & Willis in 1886), a Procter setting of uncommon harmonic daring.
It is tempting to relate the taste for nostalgia in ballads of this period to the collapse of the great Victorian boom and the consequent feelings of insecurity among the bourgeoisie; but this is not the whole story, and nostalgia emerges as one of the dominant themes of the drawing-room ballad throughout the entire century. Songs about memories appeal more to the old than the young, and an explanation for their popularity may be found by examining the market. In contrast to the large teenage market targeted by the music industry of today, the nineteenth-century market was filled with older, wealthy, and status-conscious consumers (who could afford to buy sheet music). Songs sung by, for example, the young woman of a middle-class family would generally have been selected by her mother and paid for by her father; both her lack of economic independence and her parents' concern for decorum determined this state of affairs. Even songs composed by the young were likely to adopt a posture of reminiscing age: Cowen's 'It Was a Dream' (performance by author) sets a text referring to distant memories, yet was written at the tender age of twenty-one.
Sir Frederic Hymen Cowen (1852-1935) was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but left with his family for England at the age of four. He was a precocious child who, four years later, wrote an operetta to a libretto by his elder sister. His early career as a musician was organized by his father, private secretary to the Earl of Dudley. Cowen was involved in prestigious concerts at Dudley House as a young man. [147/148] After studying abroad, he began to make his reputation in London as a pianist and composer: he had both a symphony and a piano concerto performed when only seventeen, and his output during 1869-97 was prodigious (it included six symphonies, four operas, and four oratorios). In addition, he worked frequently as an accompanist for singers and in later years achieved celebrity as a conductor. From the foregoing, it is clear that ballad composition was not a central concern of Cowen's and, indeed, he felt embarrassed about his ballads in later life when their status as an art-form was in decline. It would be too facile to claim that this was a feeling of guilt for having wished to partake of the easy profits which flowed from successful ballads. The ballad was highly respected at the time: one of Sullivan's official appointments was as Professor of Ballad Singing at the Crystal Palace School of Art.
'It Was a Dream' (words by R. E. Francillon) was Cowen's first big seller. It was published in London in 1873 with no publisher's name given on the front page, but within two years it appeared under the imprint ofBoosey & Co. Cowen went on to write most of his ballads for Boosey, so all ballads mentioned in the text below may be assumed to be published by Boosey unless specified otherwise. 'It Was a Dream' bears many Cowen fingerprints: it is in common time; the tempo is fairly slow; the refrain begins softly and ends loudly; the verse is in the minor, the refrain the tonic major; it makes use of pedal points and his favourite chromatic chords, the diminished seventh and augmented sixth; it features his favourite dominant extension, the dominant ninth; the rate of harmonic change is a basic two chords per bar; there are no 'literal' descriptive effects in the accompaniment; the latter has no real independence, being composed of chords given rhythmic impetus in a variety of simple ways such as by repeating, rocking, and spreading. Of course, many of these features are part of a common 'ballad language'; they may all, for instance, be found in Frederic Clay's 'She Wandered Down the Mountainside'. But the number of times all of these features reappear together in Cowen's ballads (and they usually include a prominent modulation to the mediant as well) does seem to indicate a feeling on his part that he needed to conform to certain procedures in order to ensure success in the rapidly expanding market.
His early ballads were performed by many of the singers associated with the name of Sullivan, and his most famous song, 'The Better Land' (words by Felicia Hemans), was composed for Antoinette Sterling some three years after she had first performed 'The Lost Chord'. The text is cast as a dialogue between mother and child and falls into three main sections. In the first two sections, the young boy demands to know the whereabouts of the radiant shore of the 'better land', a place of great beauty which he imagines to be full of such precious consumer durables as rubies, diamonds, and pearls. In the third section the mother makes it clear that the 'better land' is fairer than can be envisaged; it is a joyful, timeless world existing beyond the clouds. The song is not without drama or subtlety: in the first two sections the high-pitched accompaniment to the child's questioning is effectively contrasted with the mother's brief replies accompanied by low- pitched chords and a change of metre (see Example 27); in the third section there is an imaginative reworking of the opening of previous sections to accompany the [148/149] mother's description of the 'better land' in a new metre and with low, steady harmonies (see Examples 28 and 29). The excited, questioning child and the calm, reassuring mother are therefore nicely characterized throughout.[149/150]
At the same time, the song is full of typical Cowen features, particularly the way the final section moves from a calm opening to a throbbing close (see Examples 29 and 30).
[150/151] The same procedure may be seen in two of his other ballad successes of the 1880s which also fall into three sections, 'The Children's Home' (performance by author; words by F. E. Weatherly, published by W. Morley & Co., London) and Tn the Chimney Corner' (words also by Weatherly). In 'The Children's Home', the addition of a harmonium increases the emotional thrill of the conclusion, playing grand jeu (all stops out) as in 'The Lost Chord' (see Examples 31 and 32).
In his later ballads Cowen writes mainly in verse and refrain form, placing the weight of melodic attractiveness on the refrain: he even manages to shape part of section XI of Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha as verse and refrain (with some modification to the music of the second verse) in 'Onaway, Awake, Beloved' (Metzler & Co., London, 1892). Cowen remained fond of religious themes; his biggest success of the 1890s was with 'The Promise of Life' (words by Clifton Bingham). Boosey had by then expanded their business sufficiently to be able to publish it simultaneously in London and New York in 1893.[151/152]
Making his reputation slightly earlier than Cowen, but exclusively in the world of ballads, was James Lynam Molloy (1837-1909). He was born at Cornalaur in Kings County, Ireland, the son of a doctor. His education took place at St Edmund's College, Ware, and at the Catholic University, Dublin. Although he graduated with an MA in 1858, degrees from the Catholic University were not legally recognized, so further study abroad was required before he was called to the English bar in 1863. He rose high in the legal profession, becoming, for a time, secretary to Sir John Holker, the attorney-general.
Molloy introduced his new songs almost exclusively at Boosey's ballad concerts where they were promoted by the same singers who performed the ballads of Sullivan and Cowen. Any publisher of a Molloy song other than Boosey will be separately attributed in the text below. After a string of ballad successes in the 1870s and 80s, he seems to have decided that to continue this activity would be inappropriate on his appointment in 1889 as private chamberlain to Pope Leo XIII.
Molloy's Irish background influenced his output both in obvious ways, such as his collection The Songs of Ireland (an edition mainly consisting of revamped Moore songs, published in 1873), and in the Irish character which more generally pervades his own compositions. In an early song, 'Thady O'Flinn', he set words by W. S. Gilbert in imitation of the melodic and rhythmic manner of an Irish jig.
In the late 1860s this vigorous music, joined to humorous verse, might have been thought to herald a Samuel Lover revival. However, melancholia was restored with 'The Old Cottage Clock' (words by Charles Swain), which reflected on the transience of human affairs and adopted a high moral tone. An Irishness still filters through this piece: it is present in the pentatonic shape of the lower notes of the tune and its overall compass (reminiscent of a traditional air like 'Sly Patrick'); it also shows in the occasional use of non-functional progressions (tonic [152/153] to submediant and back) and the drone effect in the bass. The rhythm may even be considered a slowed-down jig.
A conflict is apparent in bars 7 and 11 of Example 34 between Molloy's adoption of an 'Irish' style of melody and his desire to accommodate it to classical [153/154] European harmony. The weakness of the song lies in its simple verse and refrain form which is forced to convey both a bright opening mood and a tearful conclusion. It is a defect which occurs frequently in Molloy's work. Often it is overcome by beginning the third verse in the tonic minor, as in 'Two Little Lives' of 1878 (words by F. E. Weatherly, based on Hans Anderson) and 'Mistress Prue' of 1880 (words also by Weatherly). If e song is written in the minor to begin with (fairly common with Molloy) then a Schubertian change to tonic major is called for, as in 'The Vagabond' of 1871 (words by C. L. Kenney) and 'London Bridge' of 1879 (words by Weatherly [performance by the author]).
Molloy's Roman Catholic faith meant that religious subject matter was a delicate area; so he tended to stick to chaste love songs, improving ballads, and nostalgic memories of Irish peasants dancing in their clogs. It is small wonder Molloy should be dewy-eyed about a mythical Ireland of yore: in the 1860s the agitation of revolutionary Fenians was inspiring hate and fear in the British ruling class; and in the 1870s Ireland was in the grip of an economic crisis. Molloy's feelings of solidarity are with his bourgeois consumers who during this period were anxiously striving to forget the 'Irish question'. The only original music he had written for his collection The Songs of Ireland was set to Moore's words, 'Come, take thy harp, nor let us muse upon the gath'ring ills we see.' When Roman Catholicism makes a conspicuous appearance in his work, it is in a ballad which fits straight into the comic tradition of overweight monks, called 'Thursday' (words by Weatherly). Although originally published as 'Thursday' in 1884, it was retitled 'Tomorrow Will Be Friday' when its catchphrase 'Tomorrow will be Friday, but we've caught no fish today' became enormously popular.
Molloy is best known today for 'Love's Old Sweet Song' (performance by author), published in 1884 (words by G. C. Bingham). It is not a typical Molloy product, except in its simple verse and refrain form and the pentatonic inflexion of the melody at the beginning of the refrain. The change of metre between verse and refrain is unusual for Molloy but is suggested by the metrical structure ofBingham's poem. The words seem as if they were written in order to provide Joan with another song to sing to Darby. Not surprisingly then, Antoinette Sterling, who had introduced Molloy's 'Darby and Joan' to the audience at St James's Hall, also gave the first performance there of 'Love's Old Sweet Song'. 'Darby and Joan', written in 1878, was perhaps the most popular of the two in the ninetenth century, though the direct sentiment ofWeatherly's verse did not survive Ion n the twentieth.
Darby, dear, but my heart was wild
When we buried our baby child,
Until you whisper'd: 'Heav'n knows best!' and my heart found rest;
Darby, dear, 'twas your loving hand,
Show'd the way to the better land —
Ah! lad, as you kiss'd each tear,
Life grew better and Heav'n more near
(REFRAIN) Always the same, Darby, my own,
Always the same to your old wife, Joan,
Always the same to your old wife, Joan. (Verse 2) [154/155]
The use of long verse followed by short refrain was also soon to sound an old-fashioned feature compared to the full-blown, semi-autonomous refrains which took over in the 1880s. 'Love's Old Sweet Song' is in the new style, with a large, melodically independent refrain which is eagerly awaited during the less tuneful verse. Another feature of Darby and Joan which was to become old- fashioned was the use of 6/8 metre; 3/4 and 4/4 became the norm in the 1890s. The 6/8 metre and regular two- or four-bar phrasing gives 'Darby and Joan' a lilting dancelike quality typical of many of Molloy's songs. His harmonies are simpler than those of Sullivan and Cowen, and so too are his modulations; he mostly favours the conventional shift to the dominant.
Ironically, with the passage of time, this is one feature which gives his melodies a less easily dated period flavour than the frequent modulations to the mediant in Cowen. What does give Molloy's ballads their drawing-room character is the harmony, particularly his sentimental use of the subdominant minor or super-tonic seventh with diminished fifth (see the chord marked * in Example 35). This character is also evident in the conflict, remarked upon earlier, between refined classical progressions and 'rustic' melodic modality (a tension which may be traced back to Haydn's and Beethoven's settings of traditional airs). Harmonically, Molloy shows no advance on Claribel, who was the composer he overtook to occupy the largest space in Boosey's lists of new songs in the 1870s. On a rare occasion a modal melodic shape inspires him to find an unexpected series of chords: Example 36 shows the aeolian close to the refrain in 'The Clang of the Wooden Shoon' (published by Metzler & Co. in 1875). [155/156]
In 'Darby and Joan' there is only the familiar pentatonic influence, heard in the last three and a half bars of the refrain.
Unusually, Molloy slightly varies the accompaniment pattern in both verses 2 and 3 (the same pattern commonly suffices for the first two verses). The harmonies, however, remain exactly the same.
Like Sullivan and Cowen, Molloy was tempted to repeat a pattern which had proved successful. This can be clearly seen in 'The Kerry Dance' of 1879 which is largely a reworking of the design of 'The Clang of the Wooden Shoon'. Molloy wrote the words to these songs himself They each consist of memories of lads and lassies dancing happily in bygone days; furthermore, they each conclude with a ghostly vision of past companions still dancing away. 'The Clang of the Wooden [156/157] Shoon' contains three stanzas sung to the same tune, the last being preceded by a short stanza sung to fresh music. The tune of the main stanzas is cast in ternary form: the outer sections are in a minor key; the middle is in the relative major (a conventional procedure for a minor key). The music which accompanies the short stanza describing the lonely present is at a slower speed and brings a change from minor to tonic major. The final stanza is introduced softly and delicately back in the minor with a new accompaniment pattern. 'The Kerry Dance' contains three stanzas sung to the same tune, the last being preceded by a short stanza sung to fresh music. The tune of the main stanzas is cast in ternary form: the outer sections are in a major key; the middle is in the dominant (a conventional procedure for a major key). The music which accompanies the short stanza describing the lonely present is at a slower speed and brings a change from major to tonic minor. The final stanza is introduced softly and delicately back in the major with a new accompaniment pattern. The resemblances do not end here: they are both in compound duple time; they both make use of fifths in the bass to suggest a piper's drone; the rhythmic setting of the words is also similar, and not just in much of the main stanzas of each song but in the short stanzas as well.
In the late 1870s, Sullivan, Molloy, and Cowen held pride of place on the back covers of Boosey's sheet music. In the 80s they found a rival in Stephen Adams (1844-1913) who, by the end of that decade, established himself as Boosey's most popular composer. One reason for this was simply that, unlike the other three, he wrote mainly for the male voice and therefore filled a gap in the market. As noted in the previous chapter, the male voice gradually rose in status during the nineteenth century, and by the 1880s there was an abundance of concert tenors and baritones ready to promote ballads. Like Molloy, Adams' reputation rested on ballads alone. He was a celebrated singer in his own right, touring as a baritone under his real name of Michael Maybrick and appearing in all the leading London and provincial concerts. He was born in Liverpool, and, having shown great musical promise as a youngster (he became an organist ofSt Peter's at fourteen), he followed the usual route abroad, studying at Milan and Leipzig. In later life he established himself as a respectable member of the Isle of Wight community: he became Chairman of the Isle of Wight County Hospital, a member of the Royal Yacht Club (he was probably the only famous composer of sailors' songs who could actually sail himself), and he was elected five times as Mayor of Ryde.
Stephen Adams' first really successful ballad was introduced by himself (as Maybrick) at a Stratford Bow subscription concert in 1876. Notwithstanding a text by the ubiquitous Weatherly, it had been rejected by Adams' publisher, Chappell. Along with others, Boosey & Co. had also rejected it, so Adams introduced the song from manuscript. Its title was 'Nancy Lee' and its audience reception persuaded Boosey to rush it into his catalogue. From now on Adams wrote exclusively for Boosey, introducing most of his subsequent ballads (and several of Molloy's) in his own rich baritone voice from the stage of St James's Hall. It is perhaps an indication of how far Boosey's ballad concerts had begun to limit perspectives on what constituted a successful song that no publisher was willing to risk putting into print a ballad which looked like a throwback to [156/158] Dibdin's 'jolly Jack Tar' songs. It is bracing and vigorous throughout, full of cries of'Yeo ho!' from Jack (was there a possibility that these might be thought to ring out in rather too vulgar a manner in the drawing room?) and, what is more, his Nancy remains healthy throughout, surviving the generally fatal third verse. Probably nothing seemed more out of fashion in the mid-70s than this kind of ebullient sailor song.6 HMS Pinafore had not yet arrived; in fact, Sullivan had seemed to sound the death knell for sailors' songs in 1872 with his solemn 'The Sailor's Grave' (words by H. F. Lyte, published by Cramer). It now appeared as if Adams was destined to become another Dibdin. His next nautical success, 'The Midshipmite' (1879), a setting of a Weatherly poem calculated to revive memories of Lord Raglan's body being returned home after the Crimean War, was one Charles Dibdin would have been proud of. In 'The Tar's Farewell' (words by F. C. Burnard) Adams tries to repeat the dramatic turn into triple time which had lent an added attraction to the refrain of 'The Midshipmite' (see Examples 38 and 39).[158/159]
Unfortunately in 'The Tar's Farewell' the triple-time section overpowers the song, leaving the impression that Adams really wished to write a waltz. It did seem a possibility that he might turn to composing waltz songs at this time, as 'The Blue Alsatian Mountains' (words by Claribel) and 'Good Company' (words by Dr C. Mackay) demonstrate.
In 'The Little Hero' (words by Arthur Matthison; performed by author) of 1881, Adams' customary strophic treatment undergoes modification: the song contains a passage which shows one of his later favourite dramatic devices in embryonic form, a quiet atmospheric section of fragmented melody and recitativelike accompaniment at the start of the third verse. The music in this particular case is a slowed-down variation of the expected verse tune, but the potential was obvious: here was a place where elements of the gran scena might be employed.
In Example 40 there is a hymnlike motion to the accompanying chords, an octave sounded in the depths of the piano to emphasize the word 'low', a trumpet effect in bar 8, a chant-like monotone and a plagal cadence to underline the conclusion of the Lord's Prayer; the rest of the ballad contains very little in the way of musical effects like these. Adams had similar problems to Molloy when writing music for a [159/160] narrative poem, difficulties which he had encountered as early as 1871 when the hero of'A Warrior Bold' (words by E. Thomas, published by Chappell & Co.) was forced to meet his gory death to to the same jolly tune as for verse 1. 'The Viking's Song' (words by his publisher's son, William Boosey) written in the same year as 'The Little Hero' (Performance by present author) also shows formal experimentation; but its wealth of themes, variety of accompaniment textures, and sudden piano outbursts create a mood of incoherent bluster which is reinforced by the lack of an organized narrative. Nevertheless the song shows Adams' growing command of the sonorous possibilities of the late nineteenth-century piano.
Adams began to incorporate quasi-operatic sections effectively into his ballads when he moved away from nautical subjects to elevated religious themes where the addition of dramatic musical devices was a much more novel proposition. Though it may be argued that Handel never stinted at using operatic techniques in his oratorios, there was an overt theatricality about Adams' religious ballads which caused Maurice Disher to remark later that they 'tremble on the brink of blasphemy' (Disher 212).His first attempt to provide a rival to 'The Lost Chord' and 'The Better Land' was 'The Star of Bethlehem' (words by Weatherly). It was written for the tenor Edward Lloyd in 1887 and, like 'The Lost Chord' included a harmonium in its accompaniment. It was not in verse and refrain form, although a lyrical melody which appears at the end of each stanza has a function similar to a refrain. The opening bars of the first two stanzas are treated in a recitative-like fashion but with steady rhythm. The singer is asked to deliver these passages quasi parlando (as if speaking).
Surging arpeggios soon follow. [160/161]
A crescendo then leads to the aforementioned lyrical theme, marked cantabile (singing).
Adams spends more time on the first six lines of Weatherly's final stanza than he had previously spent on all eight lines. He lengthens the singer's note values, providing new melodic material against an increasingly agitated piano accompaniment. Before the climactic return of the quasi-refrain theme, impetus is provided by throbbing triplets and shifting chromatic harmonies as the singer ecstatically contemplates the movements of the star. [161/162]
The effect is more erotic than religious, the rolling back of the heavenly gates positively orgasmic! A sublimation, perhaps, of sex into religion.
From a comparison of the analysis above with the one to follow, it will be seen that 'The Star of Bethlehem' is Adams' prototype for his famous song of 1892, 'The Holy City'. The pattern of the first two stanzas is similar: a narrative beginning excitedly in short note values;
a gathering of tension as the accompanying chords break into arpeggios; [162/163]
and then an appealing and memorable melody to follow.
Weatherly this time provides a longer third stanza specifically to suit Adams' purpose; but, even so, Adams decides he needs still more space and repeats a line. The section begins with a dramatic key change, emphasizing that 'the scene was chang'd'.
A further dramatic shift of harmony occurs at the mention of the holy gates.
Adams' harmony was 'advancing' over the years: he makes plentiful use of dominant extensions in this ballad and uses the chord of the augmented sixth in a major rather the conventional minor context. Having followed the plan of 'The Star of Bethlehem' to the point reached in Example 49, Adams now faces a problem. How is he to increase the tension and drive the song towards the final cries of'Jerusalem!' without resorting to triplets and thereby spoiling the impact of the triplets which accompany those cries? His only solution is to pile on more and more surging arpeggios, trusting in the excitement of passing modulations and rising motion to propel the music forward. Adams still has one novelty in store, however: the final climax of the refrain comes on an unusual dissonance created by a suspension instead of on a predictable dominant seventh.
[Click on these images to enlarge them.]
The texts of 'The Holy City' and 'The Star of Bethlehem' show great similarity in their joint concern with the magical transformations occurring in a visionary dream which allows the sleeper the privilege of a trip 'beyond the starry skies'. Each song stresses the egalitarian nature of heaven: in 'The Star of Bethlehem' homeless wanderers 'see a home at last' and 'The Holy City' carries an assurance that 'all who would might enter'. Although 'The Holy City' is a clear case of the duplication of a formula, it provided Edward Lloyd with his most successful song. In 1899 he told the Musical Times, 'In Montreal I was engaged to sing four times in one month at a fee of 250 guineas each concert, on condition that I sang "The Holy City" on each occasion' (Quoted in Turner and Miall 189). The average annual sales of 50,000 copies must have also pleased Adams and Weatherly. It is understandable that, after a few years, they should want to try out the same formula again.
'The Light of the World' was written for Lloyd in 1896. 9 The tempo marking is now Andante Religioso rather than Andante Moderate, and the refrain bears the instruction 'With fervour.' Some modification of the formula has taken place: it is verse 2 which is lengthened and contains the atmospheric effects. The song is a curious mixture of the stale and the new. Adams continues to develop his harmony, making use of the dominant seventh with augmented fifth (a chord of which he became increasingly fond in later songs); yet he returns to his earlier penchant for mediant modulations at the fourth line of verse. After producing an 'entirely new edition' in 1898, it still remained a short-breathed and patchy work which could not be saved by Weatherly's new dream narrative or a refrain constructed on the lines of the passionate imperatives of 'The Holy City'. 165/166]
Adams and Weatherly were not, of course, collaborating only on religious ballads in the 1880s and 90s; they were also having some success with love songs. The first to gain popularity was 'The Romany Lass' of 1883: a familiar tale of a poor girl who stubbornly tries to improve her economic status, and who pays the price for failing to recognize that her bright eyes are worth more than gems. A later favourite was 'Mona' (1888), sung by a lover who has been exiled for an unspecified, disgrace, a theme returned to in 'Thora' (1905). Perhaps the most imaginative is 'Nirvana' (1900), though it lacks the melodic appeal of 'Thora'. This largely results from Adams' experimental treatment of the third stanza. It begins in his usual recitative manner, with striking diminished sevenths whose disintegrating effect on the tonality parallels the decay of the lotus flower.
It proceeds, again in his usual manner, to become increasingly animated, but then thwarts expectations by neatly dovetailing into an elongated and varied return of the thematic material which concluded the earlier stanzas. Buddhism is only present in the song as an exotic element, helped along by token chinoiserie in the piano part. See example 52. The concept of Nirvana attracts nothing but patronizing scorn in an age of imperialist expansion: verse 2, for example, ends 'I only know Nirvana / Within thy loving arms.' Weatherly clearly sees the Buddha as the 'Bloomin' idol made o' mud' described by Kipling's soldier in 'On the Road to Mandalay'.
To conclude the chapter, some biographical details are necessary to flesh out the character of Frederic Edward Weatherly (1848-1929). He was, himself, frequently peeved to find that the composers who set his verse received the whole [166/167] credit for the song, even though the concern for words of a singer like Sterling was notorious (she refused to sing any song whose words she found unconvincing).
Weatherly was born in Portishead, Somersetshire, and educated at Brasenose College, Oxford. He was called to the bar in 1887 when he was already well known as a songwriter and had published two books on logic. He wrote English versions of Italian opera that are still used today: 'On with the Motley' is Weatherly (from his translation of Leoncavallo's / Pagliacci). The idea that Weatherly revamped formulas, as in the religious ballads or in 'Mona' and 'Thora', in order cynically to manipulate the market is contradicted sharply by Eric Coates' memories of him reading aloud to friends: 'If the words were particularly moving he would frequently break down with emotion and have to wait until he could compose himself sufficiently to continue' (quoted in Nettel 220). Weatherly needed to feel sympathy with the subject matter of a song. Once the forces of labour began to organize, he could no longer create characters like the lad in 'The First Letter' (music by Molloy) who knows he is hard, rough, and lowly, but is proud to own a true heart. Writing in 1910, Weatherly states, 'the poor have become so haughty they are no longer sympathetic subjects for songs'.11 His solution was to turn in the direction of 'rustic songs' and 'the old English folk-song'.12 His most famous effort in the new direction was 'Danny Boy' (1913). Weatherly was not untypical in suddenly discovering the merit of 'rustic songs'; Clara Butt, who inherited all Antoinette Sterling's ballad classics, had taken to singing 'The Keys of Heaven'.
The temptation to interpret the design of a successful song as the magical embodiment of a best-selling formula was not confined to the mighty amongst ballad composers. Piccolomini favoured narratives on a religious theme which included a refrain requesting divine intervention, set to an accompaniment of pulsating quavers or triplets. 'Ora Pro Nobis' of 1889 (performance by author) obviously builds upon the design of 'The Toilers' of the previous year. John Behrend's 'Daddy' is a transparent attempt to duplicate the success of'Auntie'. Paolo Tosti, settling in Britain in 1880 and appointed singing teacher to the royal family, produced in 'Goodbye!' (1881 — performance by author)) a model for impassioned songs of separation ('For Ever and For Ever!', 'Parted', 'Never!').
Composers did not merely try to repeat their own successes; they were quite ready to try to repeat each other's as well. Trotere's 'The Deathless Army' is a flattering tribute to Barn's 'The Old Brigade'. Jude's 'The Skipper' shows his [167/168] immense admiration for Adams's 'Nancy Lee'. Other composers tried setting the same poem as that of a well-known ballad; but this seldom met with much success and seemed to endorse the notion that the secret of a song's appeal lay in the musical form at least as much as the text.
Publishers were eagerly on the look out for composers who might have lit upon a formula for commercial success. J. H. Larway signed up Hamilton Gray (real name William Jones) on an exclusive contract as a result ofhis talent for imitating Adams in 'Holy City' vein in ballads like 'The Heavenly Song' and 'A Dream of Paradise'. John Blockley thought to save his ailing firm by paying an unprecedented sum when he handed over £1212. l5s. for the copyright of Michael Watson's 'Anchored' (performance by author).13 Everything seemed propitious about this ballad: itwas in an elevated style containing elements of gran scena as the happy sailor lad's boat is wrecked amidst thunder and lightning, and as his soul rises to heaven while the stars twinkle sympathetically in triplets. It had a tuneful refrain and a text by Samuel Cowen which played on a favourite ambiguity: the sailor thinks he is going home to his father, and indeed he is, but not the home or father he has in mind. Watson had a good ballad pedigree which included previously admired work on nautical themes, such as 'Afloat'. To add to the good omens, he had recently died. It seemed that the ballad could not fail; yet it was only a modest success, and by 1897 Blockley's catalogue had been acquired by Ascherberg, Hopwood & Crew. It seemed that the secret of the successful song formula was to remain elusive. [169/170]
Last modified 17 June 2012