The website for Dr Martin Shaw OBE FRCM (1875 –1958)

"...they sang the “Song of the Fleet,” and what is more, asked me to sing it again, which I had not intended to do."

Thorpe Bates on singing Shaw's song to an audience of 2,000 sailors

Singing Martin Shaw's Songs


three singers from the nineteen tens


Shaw wrote in the days before the singer-songwriter of today's popular music. As a classical composer Shaw’s songs were written to be sung by professional singers, and were sung by the leading singers of his day. Among them were Madame Blanche Marchesi (below), and pictured above: Thorpe Bates, Robert Radford and Hayden Coffin.

Thorpe Bates sings Battle Song of the Fleet

Shaw’s Six Songs of War filled a need for English music during World War 1. Thorpe Bates sang Battle Song of the Fleet at Sea, one of the Six Songs, and commented:

I sang “Battle Song of the Fleet” to 2,000 sailors of His Majesty’s ships at Harwich. They took it up at once. I went again to Harwich to sing. Before the concert the men were singing among themselves in the hall and they sang the “Song of the Fleet,” and what is more, asked me to sing it again, which I had not intended to do.


dark-eyed rather overweight Italian beauty of the nineteen-hundreds gazing up into the distance Blanche Marchesi

One of Shaw’s first published songs, an arrangement of Purcell in 1902, was sung by the contralto Blanche Marchesi. It was unusual at the time for an opera singer to sing English music.

Sans Saens Admiration for Early English Music

Marchesi’s opinion of English music appears to have been informed by the French composer Sans Saens. In her reminiscences, A Singer’s Pilgrimage, she recalls a conversation with him in the late Victorian era when he was passing through London.

He said:

“If the English only knew what treasures of music they possess! But they do not. They have had very great men in olden times, but Händel the foreigner came and crushed them all, as he reigned supreme, and did not let any other composer come to the surface again.”

He added: “I have convinced myself of it, as Queen Victoria graciously allowed me to look through her libraries, where I found real treasures of old English musical literature.”


Marchesi’s Support for English Music

Marchesi herself searched for new English productions, thinking that 'the living must live', which was a good reason for her to support Shaw’s work.

This support was acknowledged in Shaw's dedication to her of Heffle Cuckoo Fair.