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Cornford Songs.... what inspired this music?

Frances Cornford (1886-1960)


The songs in Elaine's 'Cornford Songs' were inspired by the female poet, Frances Cornford. I quote from the composer’s introduction:


'Frances Cornford was born and lived most of her life in Cambridge, England. She was the granddaughter of Charles Darwin, and on her mother’s side was related to William Wordsworth. In 1909 she married another Francis, who was to become a Professor of Ancient Philosophy in Cambridge; they had five children. Frances Cornford published eight volumes of poetry and two of translations. Her Collected Poems (1954) was the winner of the Poetry Book Society and in 1959 she was awarded the Queen’s medal for Poetry. Speaking of herself, Cornford said: ‘I am magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life'.


The following quote comes from the London Times Literary Supplement.

'Frances Cornford was able to create poetry that survives because it is close to experience

. . . always imbued with a gracious authenticity of feeling, a naturalness of expression and certainty of form that come only with an acutely sensitive ear. The poems are, in the simplest and best sense, well written; miniatures that yet convey the whole compass of their subject'.

Elaine’s Cornford Songs illustrate the simplicity of this poetry without taking away any of its directness. Its succinct qualities are transferred into the music using a broad palate of musical colors, and some deliberate dissonances lend to the strong character sketches without becoming sentimental or trite. This fresh blending of text and music draws us willingly into the story and paints strong mental images.


The Cornford Songs, written between 1972-4, were originally performed on the BBC radio in 1975 by the British contralto Pamela Bowden. Although these songs were originally conceived for contralto, the composer did not object to transposing them upward for soprano or tenor. She does not seem to mind if a woman or man sing the songs, even if the text calls for a specific gender as narrator.


The Cornford Songs are available to purchase in PDF or physical volumes from the Caradoc website.



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