There was a time when
a composer was ostracised because he/she
was too modern or difficult ... avant-garde
in fact. Beethoven was shunned by many,
Debussy similarly for a number of years,
Stravinsky the same and the list could
go on. Nowadays a composer is marginalised
because he is not difficult or abstruse.
It is the worst musical crime of all
to be easily assimilated, populist or,
heaven forefend, tuneful. Carey Blyton
who died, it seems extraordinary to
think it, almost three years ago aged
70, falls into that category. However
his day is coming, nay has almost arrived,
and this CD will help focus the cause.
A few months before
his death, he sent me a tape and so
I had a chance of an early hearing.
It was soon apparent to me that of all
of the eight CDs of his music that have
come out in the last twelve years or
so, this one probably meant most to
him. Why was that? Well, although orthodox
religion was not at all Carey’s ‘bag’
he could, despite his sometime frivolous
exterior, be a spiritual and philosophical
man. This comes out in the first four
works here especially in ‘Litany’, ‘Drop,
Drop Slow tears’ with words by Phineas
Fletcher (1582-1650) also set by Walton
and ‘God’s Gifts’ for which Carey had
written the beautiful and yet simple
words. He also wrote the words for the
So the CD starts with
more ‘serious’ pieces and then launches
into typical Blyton, never to look back.
I'll just discuss a few that particularly
Blyton is brilliant
at writing canons; a real skill this.
Of course, for the choral director,
especially if his ensemble is a little
short of rehearsal time or talent, canons
are a wonderful short-cut.
I have used the ‘Insect
songs’, ‘Food songs’ and ‘Bird songs’
with my own very young choirs on many
occasions in the version with piano.
Until this experience I had not realized
that they almost all work as Rounds.
Mind you, sung unaccompanied as they
are here, tuning might be a problem,
but not of course for the ladies of
Canzonetta. Other canons here are composed
as part of the texture as in the ingenious
three-part songs which make up the little
cycle ‘A Woman’s world’. With the canon
only in the top two parts it does mean
that the pieces could be sung in just
two parts if necessary,- very practical,
very resourceful. Incidentally we should
not forget the sadly, unpublished ‘Three
Fishy Tales Op. 50.
One of my favourite
Blyton works, and one which continues
to grow on me, is the little cycle of
four settings of 16th Century
verse which make up ‘What then is Love’.
These were written in 1956. To hear
the work in chamber music form, in its
arrangement for soprano, clarinet and
piano, you should purchase ‘The Early
Songs’ on (Upbeat URCD160). Here we
can hear it in the version the composer
originally conceived that is for a
cappella choir; quite different
it is too. These are real madrigals
and well worth any choir investigating.
Incidentally the second one ‘Tell me
where is fancy bred’ starts as a delightful
canon first between soprano and tenor
and is then taken up by alto and bass.
The next song, which begins in three
parts, is again a canon between the
sopranos 1 and 2.
In an interview published
by Fand between the composer and Peter
Thompson, Blyton is asked "Where
do your ideas come from?". The
composer remarks "when I’m sitting,
or lying in bed or waiting to get up,
or waiting to go to sleep". Well,
I wonder where the idea came from for
the ‘Nine Nursery Songs’ of 1991. It
is a bizarre potpourri of rhyme after
rhyme, passed between the voices and
then mixed about a bit. It is utterly
original and great fun but is
it performable? I don’t mean technically,
it’s certainly not difficult, but where
and when, might it be performed? This
may seem a silly question but Carey
Blyton's music sometimes needs the correct
exposure and a sympathetic choir.
There is also another
problem too: the words. One of Carey’s
many charms was that he was incredibly
politically-incorrect. This is often
reflected in the texts that he chooses.
For instance, I have found that in rehearsing
and performing ‘Ladies Only’ the teenage
girl’s choir I had could not quite cope
with lines like ‘So he sighed and pined
and ogled, / And his passion boiled
and bubbled, /Till he blew his silly
brains out/ And no more by it was troubled’.
On the whole my choir liked the music
but not the words. ‘In Lighter Mood’
is a setting of songs proclaiming the
joys of smoking. My Headmistress may
not be too happy about the choir’s teenage
boys singing this and the boys themselves
can’t really relate to the words anyway.
In ‘The Mistletoe Bough’ Blyton had
the witty idea of asking for the piano
woodwork to be tapped in rhythm between
verses. It is only at the end that we
learn that the tapping is because the
skeleton of granny was found in an old
chest ‘mouldering there in the bridal
wreath’; not really carol service stuff,
although suitable for adults in a light-hearted
Christmas concert. That’s the problem.
Adults find these things amusing, teenagers
and children who put on many more concerts
than adults I think, take them at face
value and cannot see the humour in the
same way. That’s what I mean by a sympathetic
choir being required.
Needless to say, ‘Canzonetta’
is completely sympathetic and Jennifer
Partridge a delightful accompanist as
you might expect. In fact she and her
brother Ian have both been involved
with Blyton’s music well before this
disc. They were the artists on the aforementioned
‘Early Songs’ disc and even earlier
appeared on the roster of the ‘Lyrics
from the Chinese’ disc of 1999 (URCD
There is no doubt in
my mind that anyone can and will enjoy
this disc. Unlike other Blyton CDs however
no texts are given in the eight-page
booklet. However there are some useful
notes by John Webber. There are 56 tracks
in all; quite something. Other companies
could learn from it. There is much here
to entertain, fun for the whole family
indeed. I strongly suggest that you
search it out and the other Blyton discs.
This music, simply delightful as it
is, could well change your life!
pages on Carey Blyton