Saturday, 8 April 2017

Blake Set to Music—Donald Fitch

The formal composition of settings of a poet provides an interesting measure of the reputation of a poet and the reception history of his oeuvre. Musicians, not just critics, are influenced by literary fashion. For example, Robert Bloomfield’s work was granted musical setting almost from publication of The Farmer's Boy in 1800. The fashion for Bloomfield (1766-1823) was transitory, though intense enough while it lasted, and the vast majority of these compositions were written within Bloomfield’s lifetime.  In contrast, his near contemporary, William Blake (1757-1827), had to wait until 1863 for the first known composed setting of his words (“Chimney Sweeper’s Song”, by T. L. Hately).  Today, Blake is probably approaching Burns as the most set English-language poet after Shakespeare, whereas Bloomfield’s settings remain few.

A comprehensive list of Blakean musical settings to the late 1980s is given in Donald Fitch’s Blake Set to Music (1990), which documents the use of Blake’s poetry and prose by composers, identifying 1,412 musical settings from the 1870s through 1989.


Donald Fitch.—Blake set to music : a bibliography of musical settings of the poems and prose of William Blake.— Berkeley ; Los Angeles ; Oxford : University of California Press, 1990.—xxix, 281 pages ; 27 cm.—University of California Publications: Catalogs and Bibliographies, Volume 5.—ISBN: 0520097343

Fitch lists 1,327 settings for the twentieth century to 1989. (Obviously, many more settings can be added for the 1990s and the twenty-first century.) From these musical settings, we can read Blake’s reception history in its political (singing the Blake/Parry hymn ‘Jerusalem’ has had both left-wing or progressive connotations, and as a patriotic anthem for the far right), its international (settings by composers from outside the Anglo-American world), its gendered (from an early time, Blake’s words were set by women composers), and other aspects. William Blake has inspired musical settings in a wide variety of styles—austerely monophonic (Vaughan Williams); English art-song (John Sykes); song cycle (Virgil Thomson; Benjamin Britten); soft rock (Finn Coren); folk (Kate and Anna McGarrigle); electronic (Jakob ter Verhuis, The Garden of Love, for oboe and ghettoblaster, which amusingly deconstructs the rather mannered recording of Blake’s words by Ralph Richardson).

The full text is available online at . Fitch's work remains essential for any work on Blake and music, including many of the entries on this blog.


G.E. Bentley, Jr.—Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, XXX, 1 (Summer [September] 1996), 25-31.
“Fitch’s search for music set to Blake texts seems to have been wonderfully comprehensive” (27); the Appendix (28-31) lists addenda and corrigenda.
Republished 2001 in .

William S. Brockman.—American Reference Books Annual, XXII (1991), 505-506.

Choice, XXXIII (1995), 577+.

Detlef W. Dörrbecker.—“Blake and His Circle: An Annotated Checklist of Recent Publications”, Blake : An Illustrated Quarterly, XXV, 1 (Summer 1991), 11.
“[T]he 1402 (!) entries in Blake Set to Music have made me aware for the first time of the truly awe-inspiring wealth of “musical settings of the poetry and prose of William Blake” that are now in existence. Who would have thought there were no less than 636 Blake-related compositions between 1970 and 1979 alone?”

Bryan N. S. Gooch.—Notes, Second Series, Vol. 48, No. 1 (September 1991), 107-108.
Gooch grumbles that Fitch has apparently ignored the Gooch and Thatcher bibliography (1982) but nevertheless concludes that “Fitch’s volume is a singular achievement, a significant contribution to musicology and to Blake studies”.

Related publications

Bryan N.S. Gooch.—Musical settings of British romantic literature : a catalogue / Bryan N.S. Gooch, David S. Thatcher ; editorial assistant, Odean Long.—New York : Garland Pub. 1982.—2 volumes (lxxxiii, 1768 pages) ; 23 cm.—Garland reference library of the humanities ; 326.—ISBN: 082409381X
Lists 1,624 settings of Blake, and 3,430 for Burns. The Blake total is not nearly so great as it seems, for Gooch and Thatcher list each poem by itself, so that Britten’s Songs and Proverbs of William Blake (1965) generates 6 poem entries (individual Songs of Experience) plus entries for the extracts from the Marriage of Heaven and Hell and from “Auguries of Innocence”. Fitch’s work, which is organized by composer, lists the work just the once. It is thus much more extensive even though it has fewer entries. Fitch’s work is far more detailed (including, for instance, the composer’s dates and nationality), and it appears as well to be more accurate. Fitch is also far easier to use.

Robert N. Essick.—”Blake in the Marketplace, 1995, Including a Survey of Blakes in Private Ownership”, Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, XXIX, 4 (Spring 1996).
Reports his acquisition of The Illustrated Book of Songs for Children on page 120 and illustrates T. L. Hately's setting of “Chimney Sweeper’s Song” as illus. 7. This is earlier than any setting noted by Fitch.

Anon.— “Updating Donald Fitch’s Blake Set to Music”, Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, XXXIII, 2 (Fall 1999 [17 January 2000]), 63.
“Donald Fitch, author of the standard catalogue of musical settings, Blake Set to Music (California, 1990), is completing an update of his work for Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly. He would very much like to hear from anyone who has information about musical settings of Blake created in the past decade.”

Donald Fitch.—“Blake Set to Music: Supplement 2001”, Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, XXXV, 2 (Fall 2001), 40-61.
“This supplement—to my Blake Set to Music: A Bibliography of Musical Settings of the Poems and Prose of William Blake (Berkeley: U of California P, 1990)—is an attempt to locate and describe the Blake-inspired music that has come to light in the past ten years” (40). There are more than 300 new entries. Now available online at .

Anon.—“”, Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, XXXV, 2 (Fall 2001), 63.
The Blake “web site now has a Features section, which will include both new material and online versions of items previously published in the print edition” beginning with “an extract from
Janet Warner’s novel ‘Blake’s Wife”, “G.E. Bentley, Jr.’s review of [Donald Fitch’s] Blake Set to Music (from the summer 1996 issue), and Thomas Dillingham’s review of Finn Coren’s two-CD album The Blake Project (from fall 1998).”

Donald Everett Fitch, librarian, was born on 9 April 1928 in Miles City, Montana, USA, the son of Everett Willis and Teresa Helen (Sagaser) Fitch. He married Dorothy Ann Lamb, 19 June 1954, and they had children: Stephen, Charles, Robert, Jane, Alan, and Hugh.

His education comprised Bachelor in English, Gonzaga University, 1953; Master of Arts in English, University of California at Los Angeles, 1954; and Master of Library Science, University of California, Berkeley, 1959.

His career extended from teacher, Coeur d’Alene High School (Idaho), 1954-1956; Santa Monica College (California), 1958; librarian, University of California, Santa Barbara, from 1959; head of  reference department, UCSB, 1963-1984, and assistant college development officer, from 1984.

As a composer, he published two choral works
Glory to God : SAB choir with organ accompaniment.—Cincinnati OH : World Library, c1974.—1 score (7 p.) ; 26 cm.
O sons and daughters : an alternative setting : SATB choir, solo, keyboard; [text] Jean Tisserand ; tr. by John M. Neal.—Schiller Park IL : World Library, c1992.—1 score (7 p.) ; 26 cm.
There is also a short Blake setting for two singers
Five windows light the Cavern'd Man : duet for soprano and alto voices and piano.—MS, 1978.—1 score (4 p.) Text from Europe : a Prophecy. Unpublished.
Fitch was editor of a journal, Soundings: Collections of the University Library (ISSN: 0038-1853), which began publication in May 1969, describing collections and gifts to the library at UCSB. Publication was semi-annual, 1969-77, and annual, 1979- . He was also a contributor of articles to professional journals.

He died 23 January 2007, aged 78, survived by Dorothy, his wife of 52 years, four sons, a daughter, 10 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and three younger sisters.


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