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Three Songs without Words for oboe quartet


The Three Songs without Words, composed probably in 1937, were dedicated to Joy Boughton. Each movement is based on one of Boughton’s songs and, despite the title, the effect is of a third oboe quartet. The first song belongs to incidental music he wrote in 1935 for Isolt, a play by Antonia Bevan Williams. The original opening words echo Housman: ‘Out of a sigh an air that blows’, and the title is given as ‘The Birth of Song’. In his quartet version Boughton changed the title to ‘Whence!’ and quotes the line as ‘Out of a something that no one knows’ – presumably to underline the sense of mystery.

‘Faery Flout’ is based on a setting of a poem by Mary Webb (1881–1927, author of such popular pastoral epics as ‘Precious Bane’ and ‘Gone to Earth’ – devastatingly parodied by Stella Gibbons’ novel Cold Comfort Farm). The opening lines tell all:

The faery people flouted me
Mocked me, shouted me;
They chased me down dreamy hill
And beat me with a wand.

‘Barcarolle’ refers to a poem by Eimar O’Duffy (1893–1935), an Irish prose satirist and member of the Irish Republican Army. The opening lines seem only faintly relevant to the title:

Still the shallow laughs and bubbles;
Still in shadow broods the deep;
Still the leaning willows whisper
‘Rest thee here, and sleep’.

Boughton’s setting has not survived, though it may well belong to 1931 when he undertook to collaborate with O’Duffy on a musical comedy entitled Butterflies and Wasps that was designed to excoriate contemporary society. Fortunately, perhaps, the enterprise did not get beyond a rather lame libretto and sixty-six pages of very tentative musical sketches. Wherever Boughton’s theatrical genius may be judged to lie, it was certainly not in realms where Cole Porter and Noël Coward reigned supreme.

from notes by Michael Hurd © 1997


Boughton: String Quartets & Oboe Quartet No 1
CDA66936Archive Service


No 1: Whence! Andante delicato
No 2: Faery Flout: Allegro giocoso
No 3: Barcarolle: Andante languido

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