Tom Leminn is a comical, entertaining ballad with a sinister, more disturbing edge. A pseudo-folksong, replete with simple tune and refrain, it anticipates (as an important precedent) the musical tenor and satire of Stanford’s opera Shamus O’Brien composed three years later. The song’s transparent simplicity is, however, distorted by unexpected chromaticisms, unpredictable phrase-lengths and sudden changes of tonal direction (note especially the oblique approach to D major in the final verse) which does much to enhance the air of irony. Take, for example, the initial ambiguity of the piano’s opening gesture, suggesting F major before it turns, more ominously, to D minor, a tonal dualism further developed in the third verse (‘The fair widow she sat within’), which sets out in F but cadences ultimately in D minor as before. As for the final verse, Stanford uses the modal change to D major to convey notions of married bliss (note the phraseological augmentation at ‘ordained for human comfort’) and, latterly, a sense of urgency as the hapless young fellow fails to extricate himself, leaving us to ponder the ironic outcome in the final refrain in the minor.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2000