Themed Programme - Fairy Songs

Magical settings of poetry by late 19th and 20th Century British composers, including works inspired by the pre-Raphaelite movement and Celtic legends.

Fairy Songs

I have always believed in magic and have loved tales of mystical beings ever since my beloved Scottish nanny introduced me to a world of wonder when I was little. She never failed to point out a fairy ring of mushrooms or the dew sparkling on a spider's web in the early morning as if touched by a wand when we went for our morning walk. She read me wonderful tales of magical folk that fired my imagination such as "Little Grey Men" and "Down the Bright Stream" by B.B, closely followed by stories from Andrew Lang's many coloured Fairy Books, "The Hobbit" and the Narnia Chronicles.

I can still remember the joy and fascination of discovering this parallel race of beings. Fairies can be mischievous, they like to play with humans, lead them on, entice or entrap. The creatures of the other world are not always beautiful, there are goblins, dragons, shape-shifters, witches and the like. They can be truly terrible in their beauty, casting spells of enchantment and luring the unsuspecting to their doom or to madness. They can be a trick of the mist, strange lights that move ever on just out of reach so that the victim gets led into a marshy bog from which they cannot escape or perhaps singing a siren song that makes men desperate to dive into the depths of the sea.

This other semi-hidden world has held a fascination for us humans since the beginning of time. Fairies have their roots in folklore and in word-of-mouth tales, with the nymphs of Greek mythology, with Arthurian legend and medieval literature, through Shakespeare, Victorian pre-Raphaelite paintings to the present day. Various physical and mental ailments were blamed on the fairies because they could not be rationally explained at the time – hence the expression "Away with the fairies". At times the border between fairy spirits and ghosts of the dead became blurred, or people believed that these were possibly fallen angels come to earth to torment humanity. In the British Isles tradition was particularly strong in Celtic and Irish mythology with the belief that fairies were descendants of an Old people, a smaller but more powerful race. When babies were born in Ireland it was thought that a fairy might steal the baby away and leave a changeling child in its place.

I have chosen to use settings of poetry by late 19th and 20th Century composers. Some of these were no doubt inspired by the pre-Raphaelite movement of Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti as was Stanford in his setting of John Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci.

Man has illuminated his landscapes with cities and there are many less wild places left, but tread lightly, keep your eyes open and just maybe you will catch a glimpse, hear a faint tinkling laugh, see a shadow out of the corner of your eye, or a shifting shape in the moonlight, because I am sure fairies are still out there somewhere...

Will o' the wisp Charles Gilbert Spross
In the Faery Hills Cecil Armstrong Gibbs
The Fairy Tailor Michael Head
A stoirin ban (sleep song) John Larchet – plus violin
Fairy Lullaby Roger Quilter
Faery song Rutland Boughton
The Fairy Lough Charles Villiers Stanford
The Singer (unaccompanied) Michael Head
A Leprechaun arr. Nancy Calthorpe
La Belle Dame sans Merci Charles Villiers Stanford
I know a Bank Julius Harrison
The Lure of the Fairy Hill arr. Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser
The Fairy Pipers Sir Alfred Herbert Brewer
A Garten mother's lullaby arr. Danielle Perrett
A Fairy's Love song arr. Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser
The Fairy Boat Harold Samuel
You spotted snakes Cecil Armstrong Gibbs
A Lullaby Hamilton Harty
The Fairies' Dance Michael Head
Padraic the Fiddler John Larchet – plus violin
There are Fairies Liza Lehmann

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