The music of

David Lumsdaine

The music of David Lumsdaine

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Five Travelling Songs

These songs originated in 1953, and though the original manuscripts were lost, they have stayed in my ear; so they’re ‘travelling songs’ in the sense that I’ve carried them round with me in my journey across the years. Warning to Children was one of ‘5 Moral Songs’ for tenor, male voice choir and two pianos, composed just after my first arrival in England. Another of those songs, a setting of James Joyce’s Ballade of Persse O’Reilly resurfaced in 1982 for a concert given by students at Kings College, London. This version of ‘Warning’ has been radically re-imagined for the choir, yet retains the quodlibet style of jostling counterpoint which characterised the original.

The other four songs were originally part of a sundry collection which arose, in November 1953, as tunes which could be sung by the friend I lived with and myself, to revive our spirits during my first season of London fogs. (The collection was referred to then as ‘undaunted songs’.) A number of these, including Roman Wall Blues and Three Young Rats appeared in June 1982 as part of the collection ‘What shall I Sing?’ for soprano and 2 clarinets. They’re not only travelling songs, but very adaptable, too.

DL York, 2012.

Warning to Children

Children, if you dare to think Of the greatness, rareness, muchness Fewness of this precious only Endless world in which you say You live, you think of things like this: Blocks of slate enclosing dappled Red and green, enclosing tawny Yellow nets, enclosing white And black acres of dominoes, Where a neat brown paper parcel Tempts you to untie the string. In the parcel a small island, On the island a large tree, On the tree a husky fruit. Strip the husk and pare the rind off: In the kernel you will see Blocks of slate enclosed by dappled Red and green, enclosed by tawny Yellow nets, enclosed by white And black acres of dominoes, Where the same brown paper parcel Children, leave the string alone! For who dares undo the parcel Finds himself at once inside it, On the island, in the fruit, Blocks of slate about his head, Finds himself enclosed by dappled Green and red, enclosed by yellow Tawny nets, enclosed by black And white acres of dominoes, With the same brown paper parcel Still untied upon his knee. And, if he then should dare to think Of the fewness, muchness, rareness, Greatness of this endless only Precious world in which he says he lives he then unties the string.

Robert Graves

Diamond cut Diamond

Two cats One up a tree One under the tree The cat up a tree is he The cat under the tree is she The tree is wych elm just incidentally. He takes no notice of she, she takes no notice of he. He stares at the woolly clouds passing, she stares at the tree. There's been a lot written about cats, by Old Possum, Yeats, and Company, But not Alfred de Musset or Lord Tennyson or Poe or anybody Wrote about about one cat under, and one cat up, a tree. God knows why this should be left to me Except I like cats as cats be Especially one cat up And one cat under A wych elm Tree

Ewart Milne

I Wot What Not

Of all the dates I wis one wert of all dates most unkind Which wert the date comes up the street With the date you leave behind Of all the dukes to shake I wis one wert no shakes to meet Which wert I wot not how he stands and wis not where his feet.

Ewart Milne

Three Young Rats

Three young rats with black felt hats, Three young ducks with white straw flats, Three young dogs with curling tails, Three young cats with demi-veils, Went out to walk with three young pigs In satin vests and sorrel wigs. When suddenly it chanced to rain And then they all went home again.


Roman Wall Blues

Over the heather the wet wind blows, I’ve lice in my tunic, and a cold in my nose. The rain keeps pattering out of the sky I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why. The mist creeps over the hard grey stone, My girl’s in Tungria; I sleep alone. Aulus goes hanging around her place. I don’t like his manners. I don’t like his face. Piso’s a Christian, he worships a fish; There’d be no kissing if he had his wish. She gave me a ring and I diced it away; I want my girl and I want my pay. When I’m a veteran with only one eye I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

W. H. Auden


The words from Warning to Children are set to music by permission of A P Watt Ltd, on behalf of the Trustees of the Robert Graves Copyright Trust. Permission to set Roman Wall Blues given by the estate of WH Auden c/o Curtis Brown Ltd. It has not been possible to trace the copyright holders of Ewart Milne’s poems; any help with this would be appreciated.