From the Library: A Victorian Entertainment

In today’s pro­gramme, Elrik Mer­lin presents a vari­ety of music from the Vic­to­ri­an and Edwar­dian eras – in fact as late as about 1918 – from the par­lour to the the­atre and dance-hall.

Includ­ed in the mix is an exten­sive col­lec­tion of Vic­to­ri­an and Edwar­dian bal­lads, which often exhib­it a fas­ci­nat­ing col­lo­quy of almost com­ic pathos along­side the impact of the tech­nol­o­gy of the time – Give Me a Tick­et to Heav­en (Den­ham Har­ri­son, 1903) being one exam­ple, in which a lit­tle girl asks at the rail­way sta­tion for a tick­et to heav­en, to keep her father com­pa­ny whom she believes has been killed in a rail­way acci­dent (in fact, he turns out to be mere­ly bad­ly injured). Oth­ers in a sim­i­lar vein include Don’t Go Down the Mine, Dad!, about a lit­tle boy’s dream of his father being killed in an under­ground fire (as a result, Dad does­n’t go down the mine that day and is thus not killed in the ensu­ing fire); and I Want to Tele­phone Moth­er Dear (moth­er is “some­where in the sky so high” of course). Some are still very mov­ing; oth­ers quite over­ly sen­ti­men­tal today; and oth­ers still are humor­ous as intend­ed.

The high lev­el of artistry inher­ent in the song­writ­ing is unde­ni­able; how­ev­er you are con­scious that, at times, the intent of that artistry is sim­ply to pull mer­ci­less­ly on the heart­strings of the audi­ence, so much so that it can almost seem manip­u­la­tive. We still hear this today, in coun­try songs like Tim McGraw’s Don’t Take The Girl (1994: described here) and some Vic­to­ri­an bal­lads are the direct antecedents of songs like these.

Musi­col­o­gist Pro­fes­sor Derek Scott of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Leeds pro­vides a use­ful analy­sis of the Vic­to­ri­an par­lour song, includ­ing some of the num­bers you will hear today. Inter­est­ing­ly, in clos­ing, he too notes the sim­i­lar­i­ty of some par­lour songs to coun­try bal­lads:
”…[Dol­ly Par­ton’s] Me and Lit­tle Andy and Jody’s Afraid of the Dark”, he notes, “are close cousins of Vic­to­ri­an songs of dying chil­dren, like Close the Shut­ters, Willie’s Dead.”

Sev­er­al of these bal­lads are per­formed by Ben­jamin Lux­on and his col­leagues; oth­ers by the hus­band and wife team of William Bol­com (piano) and Joan Mor­ris (mez­zo-sopra­no), who are quick to pick out the humour inher­ent in some of the songs (such as Some Lit­tle Bug Is Going To Find You, Burt/Atwell, 1915). We have also includ­ed an unusu­al lit­tle offer­ing from the cou­ple, though it is well out of peri­od, in the form of a song by Mr Bol­com him­self, inspired by his expe­ri­ences play­ing piano at wom­en’s clubs in his youth, and sung by Ms Mor­ris. It is hilar­i­ous.

You will prob­a­bly have heard sev­er­al of these songs: but in par­tic­u­lar, lis­ten out for the intro­duc­tions, either spo­ken or sung, which are sel­dom heard today. This is in fact the “verse”, and it is the “refrain”, or cho­rus, that we remem­ber – and hear – today.

We’ll also hear some good old Gilbert & Sul­li­van, includ­ing over­tures and excerpts from some of the light operas, and some oth­er pieces that are less well-known such as Sul­li­van’s music for Shake­speare’s Hen­ry VIII. Here again, we could not resist throw­ing in a goo­gly: see if you can spot it.

We’ve also includ­ed a nice selec­tion of Strauss waltzes and some oth­er dance music of the era, plus a few mechan­i­cal musi­cal instru­ment ren­di­tions of songs of the peri­od, to com­plete what is quite an exten­sive show, con­sist­ing entire­ly of mod­ern record­ings.

From the Library is pro­duced by Radio Riel in con­junc­tion with the Cale­don Library in Sec­ond Life. Today’s pro­gramme was pro­duced by Elrik Mer­lin.

For more infor­ma­tion on the Cale­don Library, cur­rent exhibits and the work of Sec­ond Life ref­er­ence libraries in gen­er­al, please vis­it the Cale­don Library Web site, or one of their loca­tions in-world.

To lis­ten to the pro­gramme off-world right now, for exam­ple in Winamp or iTunes, click here. You can lis­ten to the pro­gramme in-world at http://music.radioriel.org — the ide­al URL for you to plug into your home par­cel media address — or sim­ply vis­it any Cale­don Library branch in-world and press Play on your embed­ded music play­er.

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