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|A Shropshire Lad: Four Early Song Cycles
|White, Barbara A
|A. E. Housman
British Song Cycles
Ralph Vaughan Williams
|Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
|Ruminating on a distant, semi-imagined pastoral region in England and the early deaths of young local men who go to war, A. E. Housman’s 1896 poetry collection A Shropshire Lad found fitting contexts for its reception in the aftermaths of the Second Boer War and First World War. It has never been out of print since, and its resonances have continued to mark British culture throughout the twentieth century to the present day, shaping understandings of English sensibility and national identity in a variety of ways. Numerous poems from A Shropshire Lad were set by concert hall composers within Housman’s lifetime—an outcome that represents one of the most significant uptakes of a body of poetry in the world of English song. This dissertation offers a reappraisal of four early song-cycle settings of A Shropshire Lad: Arthur Somervell’s A Shropshire Lad (1904), Ralph Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge (1909), George Butterworth’s Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad (1911), and Ivor Gurney’s Ludlow and Teme (1920). With a view to drawing out some of the aspects of Housman’s poetry that might have appealed to these composers, Chapter I revisits Housman’s text and considers its cultural currency in the two decades following its 1890s publication. The discussion is channelled through pairings of cultural phenomena particular to the era—cultural pessimism and the pastoral elegy, and military comradeship and “the homosexual problem.” Chapter II considers the state of English music in the early 1900s and changing understandings of the cultural role of song in the concert hall. Enlisting the interpretative angles offered in the first chapter, Chapter II also explores the issues at stake for composers engaging with the themes of Housman’s poetry, with particular emphasis on the growing desire for cultivating a national music during this time. Using the observations arrived at in the preceding chapters, Chapter III focuses on the individual cycles produced by the four composers and considers the distinctive artistic responses to Housman’s poetic world that they engineer. This essay and a portfolio of compositions together constitute the dissertation but are otherwise unrelated.
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|Type of Material:
|Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
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