Music and Stevie
Music and Stevie
Stevie Smith felt that one of the influences on her poetry
were the hymns she sang as a child, and she often half sang her poems to the
tune of carols or traditional songs or hymns. One of her poems is even titled
'To the Tune of the Coventry Carol', although the subject has nothing to do with
the carol. A number of musicians have written musical adaptations to Stevie's
poems and prose.
adaptations by Elisabeth Lutyens
The composer Elizabeth Lutyens composed musical settings
for some of Stevie's poems, and in 1949 there was a performance of these by the singer Hedli Anderson. The audience was enthusiastic, and Barbera and
O'Brien in their biography wonder if this encouraged Stevie to incorporate more
singing and chanting in the performance of her poems as time passed. In 1967
some of Elisabeth Lutyens settings were included in a performance of
poetry and music. Whether Stevie actually liked the settings or not seems
doubtful , she apparently had very demanding requirements and often disliked
professional performances of her poems.
by Peter Dickinson
The pianist and composer
Peter Dickinson and his sister Meriel
performed a musical adaptation for mezzo and piano of some of Smith's poems
under the title Stevie's
Tunes in 1984. He had met Stevie Smith when she gave a reading at the
College of St Mark and St John in Chelsea in the mid 1960s.
Peter Dickinson's CD British
Song includes these songs performed by Peter and Meriel. The CD
can be bought or downloaded through the composers web site
http://www.foxborough.co.uk/recordings.php Individual songs
from Stevie's Tunes can also be downloaded at iTunes from
Peter Dickinson's album British Song.
Visit Peter Dickinson's web site at
by Simon Rowland-Jones
Simon Rowland Jones composed a setting for seven of Stevie’s poems: The
River Debden, Frog Prince, Not Waving but Drowning, Harold’s leap, River Humber,
She Said …, and The River God. He and Hermione Lee performed this 'River
God Sequence' at various venues, including the
Cheltenham Festival in the late 80’s and at the Stevie Smith Conference in Jesus
College Oxford in March 2016.
Rowland Jones also adapted Smith's radio play, 'A Turn
Outside' and set it to music. This was performed at the North Norfolk Festival in 2005
and again in 2014 and also at the Wigmore Hall in
Rowland-Jones site at
http://simonrowlandjones.co.uk/ and listen to a performance of a Turn
The composer Paul Mitchell-Davidson was touring America in
the 70's and bought a copy of Stevie's poems from a shop. It was so
different to anything he had read before that he became an immediate admirer,
and has set a number of her poems to music. He began in 1978 with Away
Melancholy five songs for counter tenor and guitar, which was written for
the counter tenor Owen Wynne. A revised version was written in 1996.
1978 Away Melancholy - . Five songs for counter tenor and guitar. Revised
version in 1996. Written for counter tenor Owen Wynne. Comprising:
Away Melancholy, Cool and Plain, I was so Full, The Broken Heart, Not Waving
but Drowning. Away Melancholy' was extensively performed by Paul Mitchell
Davidson and Owen Wynne from 1978 and throughout the 80's at recitals and
festivals. The 1996 revised version was done as a birthday present for Owen on
his 70th birthday.
1985 A Good Time Was Had by All. A
contemporary jazz piece for eleven musicians and narrator. In Seven movements,
Prologue, Stevie, Suburb, The Galloping Cat, Pretty, The Dedicated Dancing Bull
and the Water Maid, O Grateful Colours Bright Looks. First performance at 'The
Mill at the Pier, Wigan. Narrated by James McGibbon, directed by Paul Mithell-Davidson.
Visit Paul Mitchell-Davidson's web
If you aren't familiar with Stevie Smith’s poems
give yourself a treat and buy 'The Collected Poems & Drawings of Stevie Smith'
which was published in hardback by Faber and Faber in 2015, edited and with an
introduction by Will May. As a second best, previous editions of Smith's
collected poems are available second hand and as a very third best
‘Selected Poems’ is also available in paperback.
If you want to quote from
my work for essays or course work you are welcome to do so as long as you
attribute the work to Anne Bryan and this web site. Stevie Smith's work may not be downloaded, reprinted, or reproduced in any
other form without the permission of the Stevie Smith Estate who may be contacted at
Faber and Faber
Follow the links to find
out more about Stevie Smith:
Smith Biography - a short account of Stevie's life
Stevie Smith's Suburb -
Palmers Green, North London and how it features in Stevie's work
Connections - an exploration of Stevie’s connections to her contemporary writers, with a quick look at Stevie's possible
influence on today's poets.
Childe Rolandine - this poem is considered together with
Robert Browning’s famous poem 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.'
'The Jungle Husband' -
this dark poem about a jungle which is green on top is explored.
The Frog Prince -
a dive into a deceptively simple poem with hidden depths.
Smiths suburban cats
an introduction to three of Smith's
suburban cat poems: 'Tidzal', 'The Singing Cat' and 'My Cat Major'.
Stevie's religious poems
are explored in the light of the religious ideas of the time and the relevance
of her poems today is considered
Stevie Smith Festival
at Palmer’s Green - an account of a memorable poetry reading in the streets of
Palmers Green to celebrate the centenary of Stevie Smith’s birth, with thoughts
on the poems which were read.
Stevie and music - musical adaptations of Stevie's work
A Turn Outside A radio play by Stevie Smith adapted
and set to music by the composer Simon Rowland-Jones
Stevie's Blue plaque:
an account of the unveiling of a blue plaque at Stevie Smith's house in
Palmers Green, London, on 16th September 2005 by the Poet Laureate, Andrew
at Torquay - where her ashes were scattered
Stevie Smith links to
other sites which feature her work.
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