Songs by Michael Head and Friends

Songs by Michael Head and Friends Cover Picture

Tenor: Richard Rowntree

Piano: David Bednall

Sweet chance Michael Head

O to be in England Michael Head

Fox Gloves Michael Head

Green Rain Michael Head

A piper Michael HeadListen to this track

A green cornfield Michael Head

England David Bednall

First sight of her and after David Bednall

Ships of Arkady Michael Head

Beloved Michael Head

A blackbird singing Michael Head

Nocturne Michael Head

King David Herbert Howells

Dear delight Michael Head

You shall not go a-Maying Michael Head

Love’s lament for comely grace Michael Head

Love me not Michael Head

O let no star Michael Head

The twins Michael Head

A summer idyll Michael Head

Slumber song of the Madonna Michael Head

When sweet Ann sings Michael Head

Down by the Salley Gardens Ivor Gurney

Sleep Ivor Gurney

Total playing time 71m 55s


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Songs by Michael Head and Friends

Michael Head

Michael Head was born in Eastbourne on 28th January 1900. His father was a barrister and legal journalist, and his mother a fine amateur singer. Michael Head was first educated at Monkton Combe School, near Bath, followed by Home School, Highgate. His formal music training began at the Adair-Marston School of Music, studying piano with Mrs. Jean Adair and voice with Mr. Fritz Marston. In 1918 Michael Head was called up for national service which interrupted his schooling, but not his composing, and while working at a munitions factory wrote four songs as a cycle ‘Over the Rim of the Moon’, at the young age of 19. These were his first published works, published by Boosey and Hawkes in 1919. Later in 1919 Micheal Head began a period of study with John Ireland, and by September 1919, was a student at the Royal Academy of Music as the Sir Michael Costa Scholar for composition. Whilst at the RAM Michael Head studied composition with Frederick Corder, piano with T B Knott and Organ with Reginald Stegall. In addition to the Costa Scholarship, whilst at the RAM, Michael Head won many awards for composition, sight singing and harmony. In 1924 Michael Head was elected Associate of the RAM, and in 1926 accepted a post at Bedales School, Petersfield, where he taught for three years. In 1927 Michael Head was appointed professor of Piano at the RAM, a position he held until his retirement in 1975. Michael Head was a regular broadcaster, first broadcasting in 1924, presenting a programme of 3 of his own songs. This first broadcast grew into many broadcasts often with other performers. Michael Head also gave spoken broadcasts on various musical topics of his time. Michael Head was also a regular adjudicator of music festivals, the first of which was in Jamaica in 1929. He was also a busy examiner for Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music taking many tours of duty to places as far flung as the West Indies, Hong Kong, British Guyana and Canada. Michael Head received huge acclaim for recitals in which he would accompany himself singing his own songs! During Michael Heads’ lifetime he was renowned as a teacher, pianist, singer, broadcaster, adjudicator/examiner and composer and it is the latter of these for which he is best remembered. Michael Head wrote orchestral works, opera, chamber opera, oratorio, a piano concerto, chamber works for all instruments, and over 124 solo songs. It is his Solo Songs which have survived as the most regularly performed of his music.

Michael Head wrote songs in two clearly differentiated styles, diatonic and chromatic. It is the diatonic style of song that is now most widely remembered (eg. Sweet Chance that Led My Steps Abroad, Why Have you Stolen my Delight) as these are pleasant to the ear and easy to understand, and for these reasons it is easy to see why they have remained well loved. The chromatic style of Michael Heads’ song writing is also represented well on this recording (eg. Nocturne, A Piper). Michael Head wrote in both styles and neither is earlier or later than the other with examples of his chromatic writing being evident from the age of 19. In all of the songs Michael Head wrote it is very clear that there were two areas of equal importance in his song writing, the musical content of each song, and effectiveness of the word setting to create a complete musical miniature in every one of his songs.

Michael Head died in Cape Town whilst on a tour of duty examining for the Associated Board in Rhodesia and South Africa, from a sudden and unexpected illness on the 24th August,1976.

Ivor Gurney

Ivor Gurney was born in Gloucester on the 28th August 1890 and died in Dartford on the 26th December 1937. Gurney became a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral in 1900 where he was an articled pupil of Herbert Brewer. Fellow pupils at Gloucester at this time included Herbert Howells and Ivor Novello. After schooling in Gloucester Gurney attended the Royal College of Music and studied under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. In 1915 Gurney was enlisted for military service and in 1917 was stationed in France. While on this duty in France Gurney was gassed, wounded and suffered shellshock. In 1918 Gurney was discharged from military service having been treated in both general and mental hospitals. During his period of military service Gurney had two volumes of poetry published, ‘Wars Embers’, and ‘Severn and Somme’ both of which enjoyed success. After his discharge Gurney resumed his studies at the RCM with Ralph Vaughan Williams and his first songs, Five Elizabethan Songs, were published in 1920.

In 1921 Gurney moved back to Gloucester but failed to find any musical employment or any full time employment at all. This caused Gurney great depression and he was admitted to Barnwood Mental Hospital where his behaviour became increasingly unstable, to the point of threatening suicide because he felt rejected as a poet and a musician. It must also be noted that his period of military service had added to his mental instability, but the finest of Gurney’s 82 published songs were written in this period between 1919 and 1922. Gurney was later transferred to the London Mental Hospital at Dartford where he died in 1937.

Ivor Gurney, unlike many of his contemporaries, was little influenced by the Folk Song movement which was very popular at the time but found his influences in the great German Classical works and also from Sir Charles H. Parry. Gurney’s word setting is very sensitive often employing very long, flowing vocal lines accompanied by a rich, lush bed of harmony from the piano part. This style is very clearly seen in the two songs presented on this CD.

Herbert Howells

Herbert Howells was born in Lydney in Gloucestershire on the 17th October 1892. Howells was an articled pupil of Herbert Brewer at Gloucester Cathedral. In 1912 Howells won an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music where his principal teachers were Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Charles Wood. Howells first professional appointment was as Assistant Organist at Salisbury Cathedral but this appointment was cut short due to ill health. In 1920 Howells began teaching composition at the RCM where he held his post until he was 80. In 1936 Howells was appointed Master of Music at St. Pauls Girls School, Hammersmith where he was the successor to Gustav Holst. This was a post he held until 1962, and in 1950 Howells was appointed King Edward V11 professor of Music at London University.

It was as a composer of songs and chamber music that Howells first received musical recognition, but now it is for his large scale orchestral works, Hymnus Paradisi being the most well known, that he is best remembered. Howells is widely regarded as one of England’s greatest 20th Century song writers. Of all the poets that Howells set it is Walter De La Mare that he set most regularly as De La Mare was a very close personal friend. Howells writing displays a very natural, rhythmic approach word setting and the vocal lines are accompanied by very subtle piano textures which come together as very natural, cohesive, and complete song settings. Howells died in 1983 and was laid to rest in the North Aisle of Westminster Abbey alongside Elgar, Walton, Stanford and Vaughan Williams which only goes to prove the hugely high esteem Howells is held in as one of the most influential of British composers.

David Bednall - Songs

Thomas Hardy’s First Sight of Her and After sets the passion felt as the narrator walks home having glimpsed a new love against the backdrop of the ordinary day experienced by passing travellers. The ecstatic nature of the text suggested a lush and harmonically rich accompaniment with opportunity for colourful word-painting. In addition the ostinato rhythm of the accompaniment echoes the dreamy walk of the narrator. The song was written in 2004 following a personal request for a setting of this text.

England (Walter de la Mare) is a shamelessly patriotic romantic poem singing the virtues of the countryside and the special place it holds in the heart. The outer verses are set to simple melody, reminiscent of the folksong, while the inner voices are given a richer setting. The vivid and descriptive nature of the text is mirrored in the expansive and illustrative piano accompaniment. This song was completed on the day it was recorded for these sessions – 22nd October 2004.

Richard Rowntree - Tenor

Richard Rowntree began singing at a young age for his father at Douai Abbey and completed his early musical training as part of the Berkshire Young Musicians Trust. Richard went on to Trinity College of Music in 1999 where his first study was the viola, followed by voice and piano. During this time, Richard held a choral scholarship at St Martin in the Fields and a full time singing post at St James, Spanish Place, London. Richard also enjoyed a busy schedule of freelance orchestral and chamber music concerts as a viola player.

After graduating, Richard decided to pursue a career in singing and in 1999 moved to Wells where he became a Choral Scholar at Wells Cathedral under Malcolm Archer. In 2001 Richard was appointed Vicar Choral. Richard now combines his Cathedral duties with an extensive oratorio and recital schedule both in this country and abroad.

Richard is in great demand as an oratorio soloist and has sung repertoire ranging from Monteverdi Vespers 1612 to Tippett’s A Child of Our Time. Since 2004, Richard has been increasingly engaged by many of the leading choral societies in the South of England to perform the role of Evangelist in Bach’s St John and St Matthew Passions and Christmas Oratorio. A 2006 review of a sell-out performance of St Matthew Passion in St George’s Bristol said “Richard Rowntree covered this role with clarity and authority, showing supreme attention to detail and bringing out all the drama of the words with great skill and devotion.”

Richard began giving recitals with the pianist David Bednall in 2002 and they have since performed together in the Carlisle International Music Festival, Blackburn International Mozart Festival, Wells Cathedral, Newbury, Oxford, The St Cuthbert’s Festival as well as by invitation for music clubs throughout the South West. Richard and David were invited in June 2005 to give a recital at the American Church in Paris, which received critical acclaim. Their recital repertoire spans from Purcell to Ned Rorem including rare performances of Lili Boulanger’s Clairieres dans le Ciel. However, as a duo Richard and David are most at home performing English Songs, which have included all of the song cycles by Finzi, Michael Head, and Vaughan Williams.

David Bednall - piano

David Bednall is a student of Dr. Naji Hakim and David Briggs, and is currently Assistant Organist to Matthew Owens at Wells Cathedral. He has been at Wells since 2002 when he was appointed Sub Organist under Malcolm Archer. He was born in 1979 and studied in Sherborne and then at The Queen’s College, Oxford where he was Organ Scholar. In 2000 the Chapel Choir toured Paris under his direction, singing at Notre Dame and other venues. In 2000 he was appointed Organ Scholar at Gloucester Cathedral under David Briggs and Ian Ball. While there he spent periods as Acting Director of Music and Acting Assistant Organist, was closely involved in the Three Choirs Festival.

He was a prize-winner in Improvisation and Performance at the examination for Fellow of The Royal College of Organists in 2002, and has given recitals at L’Église de La Trinité, Paris, Westminster, St Paul’s, and many other cathedrals. Additional engagements have included recitals at Westminster Abbey, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and various performances of Vierne – Symphonies IV and V.

He has performed all the major works of Olivier Messiaen as part of the Liturgical Year, including the cycles Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité and Livre du Saint Sacrament. His debut solo CD for Lammas of Hakim, Messiaen and Vierne at Blackburn Cathedral, and CD of liturgical improvisations with Malcolm Archer, have both received excellent critical reviews. Other activities have included performances of the music of James Macmillan in the Bath Festival with the Bath Festival Chorus conducted by the composer, acting as organist for this year’s Exons Singers Festival, and performing in the inaugural Jean Langlais Festival in Brittany this year. He is Director of Cantilena choir, and is in demand as an accompanist. In this capacity he has appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival accompanying Britten – Canticles II, III and IV, and made a number of radio and television broadcasts with Wells Cathedral Choir and Wells Cathedral Chamber Choir.

He is increasingly active as a composer. Recent work has included a critically acclaimed commission for the Youth Choirs of Blackburn and Carlisle Cathedrals, a Gregorian Alternatim Mass for Douai Abbey, a Complete Wells Morning Service and the Introit for the live broadcast of Easter Sunday Eucharist on Radio 4 with Wells Cathedral Choir. Future projects include commissions for All Saints’, Northampton and the 2006 International Langlais Festival.

Recorded in Wells Cathedral School on 20th, 21st and 22nd October 2004 by kind permission of the Headmistress

Produced by Stephen Foulkes
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Recording assistant: Andrew Bell

Cover Photograph by Ian Whatmore, Lodge Crafts
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