Michael Head (1900-1976) was an English composer, singer, pianist, teacher, broadcaster and adjudicator whose obscurity has more to do with his unassuming personality than any lack of talent. From over 100 songs this selection offers some of the f ...» More
No 1: Foxgloves
The foxglove bells, with lolling tongue
The foxglove bells, with lolling tongue,
Will not reveal what peals were rung
In Faery, in Faery,
A thousand ages gone.
All the golden clappers hang
As if but now the changes rang;
Only from the mottled throat
Never any echoes float.
Quite forgotten, in the wood,
Pale, crowded steeples rise;
All the time that they have stood
None has heard their melodies.
Deep, deep in wizardry
All the foxglove belfries stand.
Should they startle over the land,
None would know what bells they be.
Never any wind can ring them,
Nor the great black bees that swing them—
Every crimson bell, down-slanted,
Is so utterly enchanted.
Mary Webb (1881-1927)
Foxgloves (1933), has words by Mary Webb (1881– 1927), and is the first of More Songs of the Countryside. Head focuses on the poet’s comparison of the foxglove’s flowers to the bells of fairyland with a delicate folksong-like melody and a pealing accompaniment.
Its former green is blue and thin,
And its once firm legs sink in and in;
Soon it will break down unaware,
Soon it will break down unaware.
At night when reddest flowers are black
Those who once sat thereon come back;
Quite a row of them sitting there,
Quite a row of them sitting there.
With them the seat does not break down,
Nor winter freeze them, nor floods drown,
For they are as light as the upper air,
They are as light as the upper air!
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
More Songs of the Countryside is a collection of songs including two settings of Thomas Hardy (1840–1928). The Garden Seat (1932) is the second song and is dedicated to Head’s friend Maurice Cole. It is an instance where Head uses chromaticism to create the overall mood of the poem, in which Hardy imagines the ghosts sitting on the seat as they had done in life. The sombre piano chords of the opening suggest the age and fragility of the seat (one can almost hear it creaking), while a triplet figure falling by semitones emphasizes the words ‘freeze’ and ‘drown’, before a magical transformation to pure diatonic harmony for the final words ‘light as upper air!’.