Music & Song
The website for Dr Martin Shaw OBE FRCM (1875 –1958)
"...There are some very beautiful songs, all composed with imagination and a masterly technique"
Ralph Vaughan Williams
photo, Anon: A Lancaster Bomber Crew based in Suffolk pose for a photo after flying fifty missions back-to-back
The Airmen Songs CD
The first recording of 36 of Shaws songs was released in February 2012.
The booklet which comes with the CD contains a full introduction to Martin Shaw, with detailed analysis on some of the songs plus the words of the poems themselves.
The CD has been reviewed in the national media and specialist magazines.
Further background information to individual songs can be found by clicking the links listed below...
from The Gramaphone, August 2012: English song from the co-editor of the Oxford Book of Carols
One of the glories of the CD catalogue has been that an unknown composer backed by a devotee can get recorded. The little-known composer is Martin Shaw (1875 - 1958) and the enthusiast is George Odam, who has provided informative notes and full texts of the songs... Shaw wrote hymn-tunes - "Through the night of doubt and sorrow" was a hit - and was co-editor of Songs of Praise and The Oxford Book of Carols. His overall standing was reflected when he became the first composer Britten commissioned for an Aldburgh Festival - the first one in 1948 - and five of his church pieces were included in the 1975 festival.
There's enormous variety in these songs, written between 1914 and 1942, and all published at the time. The idiom is diatonic, solidly in the English tradition, but some poems are straightforwardly set whereas others have elaborately illustratively piano parts, like 'The Airmen', celebrating the heros of the Battle of Britain. The poets themselves range from Shakespeare, Burns and Kipling to unknown amateurs. There are lyrical gems such as 'I Know a Bank' from A Midsummer Night's Dream; light comedies such as one promoting sea-bathing; and patter-songs with precisely gauged speech-rhythm. Shaw can even rise to drama where 'Black Sir Hugo broke his neck' and more seriously in WE Henley's assertion: 'I am the captain of my soul'.
This attractive selection benefits from having three excellent singers, all with good diction. With persuasive performances like these it looks as if there is a case for making room for another English song composer.
Peter Dickinson is a composer, author and Emeritus Professor of both Keele and London universities.
from Amazon Top 1000 Reviewer S.H. Smith
Martin Shaw (1875-1958), if he is remembered at all, is better known as an editor and arranger rather than as a composer of original music. Early on in his career he met Gordon Craig, son of the actress Ellen Terry, and worked with him on a series of projects in the field of theatre and dance. In 1900 they mounted the first commercial production of Purcell's opera "Dido and Aeneas" since the composer's death in 1695. The respect that Shaw earned from his fellow musicians is evident from the friendships he struck up with, among others, Vaughan Williams and John Ireland, and in 1948 he became the first composer to be commissioned by Benjamin Britten to write a piece for his Aldeburgh Festival - no mean achievement. It was through RVW that Shaw was introduced to the Rev. Percy Dearmer with whom, in 1925, he co-edited the new edition of Songs of Praise, and then in 1928 the Oxford Book of Carols. With popular hymn tunes, including "Hills of the North Rejoice" and "Through the Night of Doubt and Sorrow" to his credit, it is probably true to say that millions of people down the years have been in touch with Shaw's work without knowing it.
What was he like as a composer? Well, if the 36 songs on this disc are anything to go by, a very fine one. What is immediately striking about these works is their melodic freshness and directness of approach. The tunes are instantly accessible and the accompaniment is unfussy without ever lacking in interest. His chosen texts are diverse in scope and the settings embrace a wide range of moods, from melancholy to ebullient high spirits, with everything in between. A third of the songs recorded here are to texts by Shakespeare, Kipling and Rossetti. Among the remainder are a host of "unknowns" (often gleaned from The Times), including minor war poets, some of whose verse is really quite slight, and one wonders whether Shaw really did himself a service in setting it. Yet, on occasion, it is the "unknowns" who bring out the best in him. For example, the first song, "Venizel", to a text by a Capt. W.A. Short (d.1917), was considered by John Ireland to be Shaw's best song up to that time. Of the Shakespeare settings, there is a wonderfully atmospheric "Full Fathom Five", with some marvellous invention in the accompaniment, and a "Come Away, Death" which stands up pretty well to the more celebrated settings by Finzi and Quilter.
I acquired this CD initially out of curiosity, having heard of Martin Shaw the musician, but nothing of his music. I have no hesitation, now, in recommending it to all lovers of English song, in which tradition it sits very comfortably. The performers - Sophie Bevan (sop.), Andrew Kennedy (ten.), Roderick Williams (bar.), and Iain Burnside (piano) are first class, and do Shaw's music full justice.
S.H. Smith has written 116 reviews on Amazon, specializing in classical music recordings; s/he is currently number 535 in the Top Reviewer rankings.