Saturday, 8 June 2013

Song Arranging: Or, Which May Ball Features a Cello Quartet?

A couple of weeks ago, I made a short detour from writing about music to arranging it.  Well, all my song-collectors did it, so it's not so surprising that I should join in the fun.

Our eldest son, besides studying computer science, is also a cellist.  His cello quartet needed music for the forthcoming Cambridge May Balls.  (He's the designer of, as it happens.)  I was asked for Spanish and Scottish song arrangements.  I needed a suitable book of Spanish songs - it had to be old enough to be completely copyright-clear, so there was nothing for it but to take the librarian approach to the problem - find the classmark for Spanish songs, and go look at the shelves!

And there she was!  A Victorian lady arranger of Spanish songs - Mrs S G C Middlemore published her collection in 1887, and they were absolutely perfect for rearranging.*

Songs of the Pyrenees with Spanish, French & English words; Book 2; collected and arranged from traditional Pyrenean melodies with accompaniments by Mrs. S.G.C. Middlemore; translated by W.P. Blake and Miss Constance Bache

 I arranged four of her songs:- 
  1. Bolero
  2. Fandango
  3. Spanish Gypsy Dance
  4. Cancion d'Amor (with surprise banjo line)
Next came the question as to what I should do in the way of Scottish songs.  I like to arrange songs into suites, so the ensemble can play a batch of songs which retain the flavour of the original arranger or compiler.  That's how I came to write Alexander Campbell's Hebridean Suite for Saxophone Trio, and Alexander Campell's Saxophone Quartet - all from his Albyn's Anthology.   (Here's the first movement of the Sax Quartet, played by Saxual Healing Quartet. I'll blog about the sax ensemble pieces in my next posting, so watch this space.)

I'd done enough Alexander Campbell for now, so instead, I found a piano version of 'The Eriskay Love Lilt', by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser.  It was eased into a four-cello setting with no difficulty at all.  I must confess I didn't think I had time to do a whole set of Kennedy-Fraser settings, but maybe I might have a go another day.

Anyway, my final offering to the May Ball project was my own setting of 'My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose'I was quite pleased with the outcome; Finale NotePad played it back to me nicely enough, but I needed 'real cellists' to play it before I would really know if it worked.  Cello-Man phoned me this evening, and paid me one of his own idiosyncratic compliments.  'It worked very well .... I didn't know you had it in you.' 

Well, there you are then.  Not only a musicologist but a fully-fledged arranger, too. What shall I arrange next?!

* Mrs Middlemore also published two books of legends,  called Round a Posada Fire: Spanish Legends (1883); and Spanish Legendary Tales (1885).   In the latter's preface she explains that she spent some years living in the Pyrenees.  Sounds a fascinating woman!  I like to think that such a versatile woman would appreciate what I did to her Spanish song settings!


  1. Hello, I was interested to see this page as I have been working on compiling info on the Middlemores including Maria . If you have any more info i'd be pleased to see it.

  2. Hello, Stephen,

    It's very interesting to discover someone else finding out about the Middlemores - would I be right in thinking you're a genealogist or perhaps a descendant? I don't know what access to libraries you have, but you might be able to do some of your research online. Here goes!

    I don't really know much more than you found on my blog post - I was effectively writing a programme note for my own arrangements (which I've now added SoundCloud music files for, if you look again). I can tell you the places I would have looked, so you can go back over and see if there's more detail that I didn't pick up.

    Oxford Music Online is "The" online music encyclopedia. It used to be called Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and there are earlier editions going back over a century. I probably consulted the online version, which you could access via a big public library or university library. An older edition of Groves might even have more about her, so don't be ashamed to look at them. Old reference books can be surprisingly useful.

    To find any books with her name associated, try (it searches all British national and university library catalogues at once). Enter her name as author, then try entering it as a keyword in case she isn't listed as the main author. There's also WorldCat, which looks at worldwide library catalogues.

    I probably found the little extract from her folktales by looking at Google Books. Here are the details again of what I found:- Mrs Middlemore also published two books of legends, called Round a Posada Fire: Spanish Legends (1883); and Spanish Legendary Tales (1885). In the Spanish Legendary Tales preface she explains that she spent some years living in the Pyrenees. I really think you should look at that preface. I hope this helps you. Best wishes, Karen McA

  3. "My" Mrs Middemore was Mrs S G C Middlemore. Were they her husband's initials? I can't remember!

  4. Hello Karen, thank you for your detailed reply. Some methods I haven't tried before. My only connection to the Middlemores is through cycling and owning some of the vintage leather saddles that the family business made. Wanting to find out about company I ended up being interested in the family as well. Maria Trinidad Middlemore's husband was Samuel George Chetwynd Middlemore, one of the brothers of Birmingham MP Sir John.
    Thanks, Stephen