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A further category of reader -- the enthusiast for English song and its musical history -- will derive pleasure and satisfaction from other aspects of Varcoe's book. Despite its wide range and the huge number of songs it examines (I noted well over 150) it is, at this stage, a sampler rather than a compendium. Somervell's A Shropshire Lad is there, but not Maud; Vaughan Williams's Songs of Travel but not Five Mystical Songs; half a dozen each by Bridge and Warlock, but no Elgar; just four John Ireland (beginning with 'Sea Fever')' and three Howells (including the wonderful 'King David'); and (not itemised in the index) two full Finzi cycles (Let us Garlands Bring and Earth and Air and Rain - 15 songs in all by Shakespeare and Hardy respectively), but no E.J.Moeran at all. Britten is represented by Hardy settings too : the eight songs of Winter Words, dedicated to John and Myfanwy Piper; but no Michelangelo Sonnets or cabaret songs.

Tippett (the Songs for Dov and Songs for Ariel) is left for another day, and so are some of his and Britten's contemporaries (Alwyn, Rawsthorne, Geoffrey Bush). But no matter, for there is much to relish here -- including some fascinating reminders of high-quality but less widely-known composers (Ernest Farrar, W.Denis Browne, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, Michael Head, Elizabeth Poston) and others, such as Trevor Hold or the versatile young baritone Roderick Williams, who are still enlarging the genre.

Equally, this is a study not of song in English, embracing the former colonies, but of 'English' song. WhileVarcoe makes apt reference to, for instance, Samuel Barber, there is room for a different book on America's Hanson, Carter and Rorem, or South Africa's Arnold van Wyk, or Australia's Peter Sculthorpe and Ross Edwards. The focus, and for a purpose which Varcoe explains early in Sing English Song, is on English enunciation in England, and largely as pronounced in 'RP' -- consensus (mainly southern) modern English -- without the colouring of regional accent. For Hamish MacCunn, Alexander Mackenzie, or settings of Dylan Thomas and Robert Burns, one might adopt a very different set of formulae. And what of Warlock's doggerel or Moeran's Norfolk?

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Copyright © 26 November 2000 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK





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