Celebrating English Song

Twenty-Five English Composers

We covered the inaugural English Song Festival with great excitement in 2011. I heard a sample on Radio 3 and was most impressed, not least by the ambition of pianist and artistic director of the festival William Vann. Accompanied by William, ten singers and a violinist performed music written by more than twenty-five English composers.

The festival included a recital of songs using the words of William Shakespeare, including Sir Michael Tippett's wonderful Songs for Ariel.

Altogether now:
Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
As the organisers said at the time, 'All five evenings will take the audience through a fascinating exploration of the inimitable and ravishing songs – and poems – that are an invaluable part of the cultural heritage of this country.'

London English Song Festival

I hoped William (below) would build on the success of the festival and it would become a part of the cultural heritage of this country itself, much like the Proms (which seems to be going decidedly off-kilter since the BBC hijacked it). And build on it he has. Now called the London English Song Festival, the festival theme this year was Over There! — a programme of poetry and song recitals commemorating the centenary of the USA entering the First World War.

Great stuff. Long may William have the energy to keep it up.

William recognises it is 'a very English thing to be reticent about championing our own music.' With the festival, he hopes to remedy this by promulgating 'the performance and knowledge of the wide and varied repertoire of English Song in London and throughout the U.K.'

Ludlow English Song Festival

I'm happy to report that the delightful town of Ludlow in Shropshire also has its very own annual Ludlow English Song Weekend. The festival introduces a repertoire of English song old and new. The eminent Ian Burnside is the pianist and artistic director of the Ludlow Festival.
Beguiling world of English poetry and song
English bass Sir John Tomlinson invites us to 'Imagine a weekend in beautiful historic Ludlow, immersed in the endlessly fascinating and beguiling world of English poetry and song, where songs centuries old and songs freshly composed are performed, investigated, discussed, and keenly listened to. It's a rare and complete joy.'

I'm game, and I'm sure you are too.

How Can We help?

Both festivals need our support. Most important is your attendance, but you can also help by digging out the old origami wallet and sponsoring the events, resting comfortably in the knowledge that by doing so you're helping to support the intangible culture of England, the soft stuff that can be so easily ignored or forgotten.

You could always organise an English song festival in your town. You don't have to be a pianist, but it appears to help.


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