Though it may seem a slight departure from the usual theme here at Vermont Softworks, I’d like to take a moment to remember Donald Swann, for today is his birthday.
Some readers will recognize him as the composer and tenor of the English comedic duo Flanders and Swann. Their best-known songs are probably “I’m a g-nu,” “The hippopotamus song,” and “Madeira M’Dear?” — though I have to say my favorites may be “The reluctant cannibal” and “Misalliance.”
In fact, Swann was a serious and prolific composer, producing not only nearly 2,000 songs, but choral works, musicals, operas, and instrumental works as well.
One particularly near and dear to my heart is his song cycle, The Road Goes Ever On, with poems by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien approved highly of Swann’s music. (A good transfer of the original LP with Swann on piano and William Elvin, baritone1, can be found on YouTube here — but you’ll probably want to try to hide the video of the guy smoking while dubbing the LP.)
Just over a week ago — on Bilbo’s and Frodo’s birthday, in fact — Richard G. Leonberger gave a lecture/recital at the Marion E. Wade Center. The lecture is quite accessible, and presents a good bit of information about the history of the cycle up through the current year. Oh, anyone who is interested in Elvish lyric diction should pay close attention about 25 minutes in.
The agreeable performance (sadly miked from the audience) begins at the 41-minute mark. Schubert, anyone?