Denis Wright, the inspiration for 'The Better Land', sadly died on Thursday 14th January 2010 aged eighty-three following a very short illness; he had been in hospital for only a few days. Shortly before he died Denis wrote a last contribution which will be published shortly in Stephen Beet's forthcoming book "A Voice for Boys - The key to the Better Land". In it he writes that he wishes his and the example of the other boy sopranos featured on The Better Land CD's will continue to inspire a new generation of boy singers.
Denis Wright A: The Better Land (incipit: I hear thee speak of the Better Land.) (song, 1877: wds Mrs Felicia Dorothea Hemans (nee Browne) (1793-1835) - music Frederic Hymen Cowen (1852-1935), arr. Doris Arnold) (matrix 2EA9011-1) B: Christopher Robin is saying his prayers (please see Billy Neely's page for details of this song) (2EA9010-2) Both rec. July 1942 at the Grand Theatre, Llandudno, Wales with Doris Arnold's Kentucky Minstrels & Robinson Cleaver (organ), cond. by Leslie Woodgate. Both pieces are now on Amphion CD "The Better Land" vol. 1.
Denis Wright Uncle Mac's Favourite Hymns - First series BD.978 0ER573-2, 574-2, All things bright and beautiful There's a friend for little children [Loving Shepherd of Thy Sheep]
BD.979 0ER575-1, 576-1 Once in Royal David's City [The King of Love My Shepherd Is] [Onward Christian Soldiers] [Now the day is over] Rec. 9th Nov. 1941 at the Colston Hall, Bristol with the Greenbank Children's Choir, Frank A. Taylor (organ); Uncle David (piano); conducted by Leslie Woodgate & introduced by Uncle Mac.
These hymns were sung in abridged versions and those NOT shown above in brackets were reissued on Amphion CD "The Better Land" vol. 2
Uncle Mac of BBC Radio's Children's Hour was Derek Ivor Breashur McCullock (1897-1967), who worked for the BBC between 1926 & 1950. Uncle David was William Eric Davis (1908-96).
Denis Wright A: 'Tis the last Rose of Summer (incipit as title) (wds & music Thomas Moore (1779-1852) in "A Selection of Irish Melodies" vol. 3, no. 1 [vol. 5], pp. 14-17 (Dec. 1813) - tune there named as "The Groves of Blarney" (apparently also known c. 1790 to a doggerel ballad "Castle Hyde"; as well as "Aisling an Oig-fhir" or "The Young Man's Dream")) (matrix 0EA9528-1: first two verses only) B: Cradle Song (incipit: Slumber, slumber, sweetest dearest treasure.) (orig. Ger. wds anon. - wrongly attrib. to Matthias Claudius (1740-1815) - here sung partly in the English free transl. by Maria X. Hayes (1910) see below - music F.P. Schubert (1797-1828): "Wiegenlied" (incipit: Schlafe, schlafe, holder süsser Knabe.), comp. Nov. 1816, D498) (0EA9526-1) Both rec. 4 Oct. 1941 with Gerald Moore, piano. Both items now on Amphion CDs "The Better Land" vols. 1 & 2 respectively.
Review by HDR [Harold Rosenthal?] in "The Gramophone" (Nov. 1941, p. 99): "The newcomer's voice has not the absolutely even, drawn-thread quality of Lough's. It is more of a true soprano, with the slightest tremolo, which makes it very attractive. The Schubert Cradle Song is altogether charming, and is sung with the quiet ease of a real lullaby - so many of them stray into the concert hall or opera house by mistake. The Last Rose of Summer is, of course, a famous song. Madame Patti was very fond of it; but the sentiments seem odd from the lips of the young. In listening to the record, I could not help thinking of Master Wilkins Micawber, who, 'as an alternative between that and bed, sang us The Woodpecker Tapping.' " It is worth quoting more fully the passage referred to, in Dicken's novel "David Copperfield" (1849-50), ch. 36. Mr Micawber is speaking: " 'It is my intention, my dear Copperfield, to educate my son [a boy of 12 or 13] for the Church; I will not deny that I should be happy, on his account, to attain to eminence.' 'For the Church?' said I [. . .] 'Yes,' said Mr. Micawber. 'He has a remarkable head-voice, and will commence as a chorister. Our residence at Canterbury, and our local connexion, will, no doubt, enable him to take advantage of any vacancy that may arise in the Cathedral corps.' On looking at Master Micawber again, I saw that he had a certain expression of face, as if his voice were behind his eyebrows; where it presently appeared to be, on his singing us (as an alternative between that and bed) 'The Wood-Pecker tapping.' " The song referred to is Moore's "Ballad Stanzas" of 1804 (publ. 1806) set to music as "The Wood-Pecker" in 1814 - about ten years before the time of the story - by the famous Irish tenor Michael Kelly (1762-1826), which includes the much repeated words: "And I heard not a sound but the wood-pecker tapping the hollow beech-tree."
Text of English version of the Cradle Song by Hayes (1910 score) with brackets ( ) around passages varied by Wright: "Slumber, slumber, (dearest, sweetest) [sings: sweetest, dearest] treasure, Rock'd so gently by thy mother's hand; Soft repose and tranquil pleasure Soothe thee with the lulling cradle band. / Slumber, slumber, in sweet dreams reposing, (While protects thee thy fond) mother's arm; All her riches here enclosing, (Holds she in her clasp so true and warm.) Slumber, slumber on thy downy pillow (Love's hymn round thee music sweet shall make;) And a lily and a rosebud Shall reward thee when thou dost awake." [Wright's substituted words are not all enunciated clearly enough to transcribe.]
Denis Wright This disc was scheduled for release in Feb. 1942 but cancelled, presumably due to material shortages because of WWII.
A: The Faery Song (incipit: How beautiful they are, the lordly ones who dwell in the hills.) (song, publ. 1919, from music drama "The Immortal Hour" by Rutland Boughton (1878-1960), composed 1912-13, with wds by Fiona Macleod (pseud. of William Sharp, 1855-1905) adapted by the composer) (matrix 0EA9681-1) B: Down in the Forest (Spring) (incipit: Down in the forest something stirred, so faint that I scarcely heard.) (wds Harold Simpson - music Landon Ronald (surname orig. Russell, 1873-1938): "A Cycle of Life. Five Songs" (1906), no. 2) (0EA9684-1) Both rec. 30 Dec. 1941 with Gerald Moore, piano.
Denis Wright Market Square (incipit: I had a penny, a bright new penny. I took my penny to the market square.) (wds Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956), poem publ. in "Punch" 26 March 1924, then in book "When we were very young" (1924) - music Harold Fraser-Simson (1872-1944), in "Fourteen songs from 'When we were very young' " (1924), pp. 22f.) (matrix 10-inch 0EA9529) Rec. 4 Oct. 1941 with Gerald Moore, piano. Now on Amphion CD "The Better Land" vol. 1.
Although rather dimly recorded and transferred to CD from a worn test pressing, this recording (like "The last Rose of Summer") is cleanly and expressively sung with limpid tone, excellent timing and good characterization in the vendors' cries.
Denis Wright Test recordings made at Abbey Road Studio No. 3 on 20 Aug. 1941 with piano accompaniment by Harry Smith: Ave Maria (matrix 2EA9453-1) The Last Rose of Summer (0EA9454-1) Cradle Song (0EA9455-1) [The last two items were re-recorded in Oct. 1941 for issue.]
Unissued recordings of session on 4 Oct. 1941 at Abbey Road Studio No. 1A with piano accompaniment by Gerald Moore: Believe me if all those endearing young charms (0EA9527-1,-2), Ave Maria (2EA9530-1)
Unissued recordings of session on 30 Dec. 1941 at Abbey Road Studio No. 3 with piano accompaniment by Gerald Moore: Jeanie with the light brown hair (0EA9682-1,-2) Holy Night (0EA9683-1,-2) On Wings of Song (0EA9685-1,-2)
Master Derek Barsham. Recorded 3 or 4 May 1946 with piano accomp. Live direct-disc recording at the Royal Albert Hall during the Boys' Brigade Annual Display, Physical Phantasmagoria. First issue on "Better Land" vol. 2.
Individual CD's £10 each plus postage. The Better Land set of 6 CD's is available from StephenRBeet@gmail.com
Price £55 plus postage. Included in this offer is a FREE copy of "The Better Land - In search of the Lost Boy Sopranos" (retail value £10)
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As well as chapters on Iwan Davies, Derek Barsham, and Denis Wright, amongst others there are also chapters under the following headings: The Temple Boys, The Manchester Boys, The Music Hall Boys, The Fleeting Boys, and The Broadcast Boys.
This book is available directly from the author: Contact StephenRBeet@gmail.com
Price £10 plus postage
This book is available for the cost of postage and packing only if the set of six The Better Land CD albums is ordered.