English Open Library

Songs of the Victorians: An Archive

An archive of parlor and art song settings of Victorian poems, and also a scholarly tool to facilitate interdisciplinary music and poetry scholarship. It is designed and developed by Joanna Swafford with the generous support of a Scholars’ Lab Fellowship from the University of Virginia. It contains four songs: Michael William Balfe’s “Come into the Garden, Maud” and Sir Arthur Somervell’s “Come into the Garden, Maud” (both based on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s monodrama, Maud), Sir Arthur Sullivan’s version of Adelaide Procter’s “A Lost Chord,” and Caroline Norton’s “Juanita.”

Parlor and art song settings of Victorian poems are not mere examples of Victorian kitsch: rather, these settings function as readings of the poems they use as lyrics. Songs of the Victorians includes parlor songs alongside art songs to challenge the conventional musicological assumption that popular, domestic music naïvely misrepresents its poetic source material. Many parlor songs actually perform nuanced understandings of the texts they set and address subjects such as the silencing of women, the difficulty of resolving gender inequalities, religious questionings, and “”cross-singing,”” or women singing text written for a male character. These socially acceptable, sentimental songs often enabled women to address transgressive topics that otherwise would have been forbidden.

Level: Researcher