With one exception, all the settings here right now are of verses from ‘A Shropshire Lad’, by A.E. Housman. Housman can’t really be described as a Shropshire lad himself: he was born near Bromsgrove in 1859, and died in Cambridge in 1936, and it’s often said that he hadn’t actually visited the Shropshire countryside of which he presented his own vision until after he had published the collection (though that doesn’t seem to be the case, although most of the poems were written while living in Highgate, London.) However, his ashes are buried near St. Lawrence’s church, Ludlow, five minutes walk from where I live at the time of writing. Although I lived for the first 19 years of my life in Shrewsbury, none of these settings was composed in Shropshire either. I was living in Berkshire at that time, though the setting to Bredon Hill was composed while I was visiting my parents in Manchester, I think.)
These MP3s are all first-take demo versions, not studio quality. I’ll maybe come back to them properly when the size of my back-catalogue looks a little less daunting. Some day, I might even set some more of Housman’s verse. While much of his work has a somewhat depressive nature that’s often been parodied (there are a couple of good examples quoted here), many of his verse cry out to be sung.
I wouldn’t want to discourage you from reading or even buying the whole cycle, though. The whole of ‘A Shropshire Lad’ is viewable from bartleby.com. There are countless hard-copy volumes of Housman’s verse, of course, but my favourite is the 2009 edition published by Merlin Unwin with local photographs by Gareth B. Thomas (and a handful from the Shropshire Regimental Museum), an introduction by Prof. Christopher Ricks, and a brief biography of Housman by Dr. David Lloyd, a well-known name in Ludlow historical circles.
Here are the links to the MP3s:
- A Shropshire Lad XXI (Bredon Hill): (Housman-Harley) Bredon Hill is actually in Worcestershire. You can find this one on the Housman Society’s page. And a demo version with guitar. And a more ambitious demo version with guitar and tubular bells(!):
- A Shropshire Lad XLVII (The Carpenter’s Son): (Housman-Harley) The poem is published on the bartleby.com page here. Demo is unaccompanied: I’ll get around to the version with guitar Real Soon Now. And lo and behold, here’s a version with guitar: a cleaned-up version by courtesy of my friend Pierre Vandevenne. Still a demo: needs more work to get the guitar and voice synched properly. And a noisier but better-synched version:
- A Shropshire Lad XVIII (Oh when I was in love with you): (Housman-Harley) Strangely enough, I only just noticed that the same tune fits just as well for A Shropshire Lad XIII (When I was one-and-twenty). I’ll have to think about this… XVIII is also available from the Housman Society, as is XIII. And a rough demo for the version of XVIII with guitar. I’ve always thought of it in an orchestrated version, and I may get around to recording that eventually. Using a keyboard, not an orchestra. 🙂 A better demo of XVIII: And a demo of XIII:
- A Shropshire Lad VIII (which I call Farewell to Severn Shore for want of a catchier title – this is another MP3 demo version) (Housman-Harley) Bartleby has the poem here. Better demo:
- Another (very early) Housman poem, but not from A Shropshire Lad: Breathe My Lute.
Other Housman settings have been composed by real composers like:
- George Butterworth
- Ivor Gurney
- John Ireland
- Ernest John Moeran
- Arthur Somervell
- Ralph Vaughan Williams
Oddly enough, I’m not aware of any other folkies who’ve set any of these, but it’s unlikely that I’m the only one. 🙂
I’ve also set these Yeats poems (there may be more…)
- The Pilgrim (Yeats-Harley) The words to the original poem by W.B. Yeats are here. (Among other places!)
The Wild Swans at Coole [demo] (Yeats-Harley)
And there’s this instrumental version of the well-known tune to a song indelibly associated with Yeats: Down by the Salley Gardens [demo]
I also set a couple of Causley poems to music, but there may be copyright/IP issues with that. The late Alex Atterson did some excellent settings of Causley, which I believe were/are available on CD. You could try Musicstack, if you’re interested in those.