Settings by David Harley of verse by Housman, Yeats and Kipling
Wheal Alice Music WAM05-17
I was first drawn to setting some of A.E. Housman’s verse to music in the 1970s. Indeed, the title of the CD is an allusion to Housman’s ‘blue remembered hills’: it’s always seemed to me that part of the appeal of that work is that it describes an idealized version of a county that has always attracted mythologizers, from Mary Webb to Phil Rickman and many more.
Most of the Housman settings here are lyrics from A Shropshire Lad. However, Breathe My Lute was written by a very young Housman for a play, as a song to be sung by Lady Jane Grey while in prison awaiting execution. It somewhat resembles a lyric by Louisa McCartney Crawford (1790–1858) set to music by George Arthur Barker as part of a sequence of Songs of Mary Queen of Scots – The Captivity opens with the line ‘Breathe, breathe my Lute that melting strain My soul delights to hear’.
Most of the verses in A Shropshire Lad weren’t given names of their own, just numbers. Severn Shore struck me as being a catchier title than A Shropshire Lad VIII.
When I was is actually two lyrics (XVIII and XIII) linked by the common theme of young love (and their opening lines), though they’re very different in viewpoint. However, I’ve used the same tune for both, using a quasi-orchestral linking theme to mark the transition from youthful fickleness to a more mature wistfulness. XIII is somewhat similar in tone (and near-identical in metre) to Yeats’s Down By The Salley Gardens. More on that shortly.
On Bredon Hill (XXI) is sometimes known as Summertime on Bredon. Quintessentially Housman, with its tale of love and premature death.
XLVII was actually published as The Carpenter’s Son. I usually sing it with guitar, but use an unaccompanied version here from the archives, followed by a more recent instrumental version. The latter is the same version as released on Selective Symmetry.
Maids of Mourne Shore is an instrumental version of the tune most usually associated with Salley Gardens since Herbert Hughes used it for his setting in 1909, though other composers and singers have used other melodies, and the song Yeats was recreating was probably You Rambling Boys of Pleasure.
The Pilgrim is my setting of a Yeats poem. A Ghaoth Andeas – the spelling varies, and it’s often rendered in English as South Wind – is a song written, according to Donál O’Sullivan, by Domhnall Meirgeach Mac Con Mara (Freckled Donal Macnamara). Often heard in tune sessions in company with Planxty Irwin, and in fact I learned it when I was playing with the dance band Commoners Mock. Played here as an instrumental. It has no connection with Yeats that I know of: I just thought it would counterbalance the slightly misanthropic tone of The Pilgrim. More information on the song here and here.
Swifts and Swans uses my guitar solo Swifts as an intro to my setting of The Wild Swans at Coole.
There have been many settings of Kipling’s A Smuggler’s Song, but I thought the world needed one more. 🙂
Breathe My Lute (Housman-Harley) 1.41
Severn Shore (Housman-Harley) 2.18
When I was (Housman-Harley) 3.51
On Bredon Hill (Housman-Harley) 3.44
The Carpenter’s Son (Housman-Harley) 4.27
Maids of Mourne Shore (Trad. arr. Harley) 2.25
The Pilgrim (Yeats-Harley) 2.32
A Ghaoth Andeas (MacNamara) 2.33
Swifts and Swans (Yeats-Harley) 9.32
A Smuggler’s Song (Kipling-Harley) 3.28
David Harley: vocals, guitars, keyboards, mountain dulcimer, bouzouki
Breathe, My Lute
When I Was
On Bredon Hill
The Carpenter’s Son
Maids of Mourne Shore
A Ghaoth Andeas (South Wind)
Swifts and Swans
A Smuggler’s Song