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Tom Leminn

First line:
As I was crossing Tanner's Hill
author of text

1893 saw the production of two songs by Stanford to texts by the Cornish author, poet and parodist, A T Quiller-Couch (or ‘Q’ as he was better known). A Carol (‘Fling out your windows wide’) was published by Cassell and appeared in Poems and Ballads by Q in 1896, while a second song, Tom Leminn (dated 20 August 1893), written in a Cornish dialect, remained unpublished. Tom Leminn tells of a young man who during his journeying meets the languishing ghost of Tom Leminn who, though dead, sees his chance to marry the owner of the local inn, Moll Treloare, a widow nine times over (who by implication has exhausted the eligible male population of the locality). Tom Leminn’s suit is, however, of no interest to Moll, who now assumes a character more like Lorelei. ‘To ghosts I cannot condescend’, she declares, and instead marries the young (and somewhat fretful) traveller ‘by strength of will’, leaving the ghost ‘long a-languishing’. Perhaps the true irony is that the song is after all not about Tom Leminn but the voracious appetite of the widow!

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


Stanford: Songs, Vol. 2


Track 19 on CDA67124 [2'49]

Track-specific metadata for CDA67124 track 19

Recording date
14 October 1999
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Stanford: Songs, Vol. 2 (CDA67124)
    Disc 1 Track 19
    Release date: June 2000
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