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Music and Stevie Smith

Music and Stevie Smith

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.

Musical 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.

Musical performances 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  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  

Musical adaptations 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 October 2007

Visit Simon Rowland-Jones site at and listen to a performance of a Turn Outside on

Musical adaptations by Paul Mitchell-Davidson

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 page at 



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:

Stevie Smith Biography - a short account of Stevie's life and work.

Stevie Smith's Suburb - Palmers Green, North London and how it features in Stevie's work

Stevie Smith’s 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 NEW 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 Motion.

Remembering Stevie at Torquay - where her ashes  were scattered

Stevie Smith links  to other sites which feature her work.

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