Muriel Herbert

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Muriel Emily Herbert (1897 – 1 May 1984) was a British composer of the early 20th century. Much of Herbert's work is for solo voice and piano, with art song settings of texts by English and Irish poets such as James Joyce, Thomas Hardy, Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick and W.B. Yeats.

Early life[edit]

Muriel Emily Herbert was born in 1897 in Sheffield and grew up in Liverpool, England. She grew up singing and playing music in the home as her mother was the church choir director. She was the youngest child and only daughter. Her older brother Percy, was also a musician and encouraged his younger sister to study music, for which she had a natural ability.[1] She began writing down songs for voice and piano at a young age. In 1909, her father died and the Herbert family struggled with poverty. A journalist for the Liverpool Post, Hugh Farrie, encouraged her to become a concert pianist, but Muriel's interest was in composition.


In 1917, Muriel received the Liverpool scholarship and attended the Royal College of Music in London. She studied with Irish composer, Charles Stanford, and when World War I ended she stayed near London, taught at Wycombe Abbey School for girls, gave private lessons, and performed recitals, and continued developing her musical abilities.

In the early Twenties she met Roger Quilter, who viewed her works favourably and recommended them to the publisher Augener, even signing the contract as a witness. In 1923, Augener published the songs 'Beauty', 'Cradle Song', 'Loveliest of Trees', 'Renouncement' and 'When Death to Either Shall Come'. A further three songs, 'Autumn', 'Most Holy Night' and 'Have you seen but a white lily grow', were published by Augener in 1926. Later, some of Herbert's other art songs and two works for violin and piano ('Giboulée' and 'Enchanted April') were published by Robert Elkin.

Marriage and Paris[edit]

In 1925, after marrying a young French academic, Emile Delavenay, she travelled to Paris for her honeymoon. Here she was introduced to James Joyce by Emile's friend, the Irish poet Tom McGreevey. Muriel played and sang her versions of Joyce's poems 'I hear an army charging' and 'Lean out of the window.' Later, Joyce gave Muriel inscribed copies of 'Chamber Music' and 'Pomes Pennyeach' as well as permission to publish her settings of his texts.

Later career and rediscovery[edit]

Although Muriel Herbert had received an honorary A.R.C.M. by the Royal College and had given occasional broadcasts of her vocal music for the BBC, much of her music has remained rarely performed.[2]

Through the efforts of a former student, Bill Lloyd, and Muriel's daughter Claire Tomalin, her music has begun to be performed and recorded.[3] In 2008, 36 of her art songs for voice and piano were recorded by James Gilchrist, tenor, Ailish Tynan, soprano, and David Owen Norris, piano with Linn Records.[3]

Selected works[edit]

Voice and piano[4]
  • Autumn (Walter de la Mare) [1924]
  • Beauty (John Masefield)
  • Carry on (Cecil Edric Mornington Roberts)
  • Children's Song 1: Merry-go-round (Ada Harrison) [1938]
  • Children's Song 2: The Gypsies (Ada Harrison) [1938]
  • Children's Song 3: The Tadpole (Ada Harrison) [1938]
  • Children's Song 4: Jack Spratt (Ada Harrison) [1938]
  • Children's Song 5: Acorn and Willow (Ada Harrison) [1938]
  • Children's Song 6: The Bunny (Ada Harrison) [1938]
  • Contentment (C. L. Lanyon)
  • Cradle Song (A.C. Swinburne) [1922]
  • David's Lament for Jonathan (Peter Abelard, trs. Helen Waddell) [1936]
  • Faintheart in a Railway Train (Thomas Hardy) [after 1925]
  • Have you seen but a white lily grow? (Ben Jonson) [1924, unpublished]
  • Lips and Jaws (The Days of November) (Ada Harrison) [early 1940s]
  • Horsemen (Gerald Gould) [1926, unpublished]
  • How beautiful is night (Robert Southey) [1918]
  • I cannot lose thee for a day (George Meredith)
  • I dare not ask a kiss (Robert Herrick) [no date]
  • I hear an army charging (from Chamber Music) (James Joyce) [1928]
  • I think on thee in the night (Thomas K. Hervey) [before 1917, unpublished]
  • In the Days of November (Ada Harrison) [1943, unpublished]
  • Jenny kiss'd me (Leigh Hunt) [1921]
  • Jock o' Hazeldean (Sir Walter Scott)
  • Jour des Morts (Cimetière Montparnasse) (Charlotte Mew) [1922]
  • Lean out of the window (from Chamber Music) (James Joyce) [1928]
  • Love's Secret (William Blake) [1928]
  • Loveliest of Trees (A.E. Housman) [1923]
  • Most Holy Night (Hilaire Belloc) [1924, published 1926]
  • My lady (C. Hornby)
  • New shoes (Doris Caroline Abrahams)
  • On a Time (Anon – John Attye's First Book of Airs) [1935]
  • On the Road (Anon) [1922 or 1923]
  • Renouncement (Alice Meynell) [1923]
  • Rose kissed me today (Austin Dobson) [1919]
  • She weeps over Rahoon (from Pomes Pennyeach) (James Joyce) [1929]
  • Sing unto the Lord all the earth (The Bible)
  • So by my singing am I comforted (MS. of Benedictbeuern) (from Carmina Burana, trs. Helen Waddell) [1934]
  • Song – I cannot lose thee for a day (George Meredith) [1927]
  • Stars of the summer night (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
  • Tewkesbury Road (John Masefield) [1919]
  • The Crimson Rose (Enid Clay) [1928]
  • The faithless shepherdess
  • The Lake Isle of Innisfree (W.B. Yeats) [1928]
  • The Lost Nightingale (Alcuin, trs. Helen Waddell) [1938-9]
  • The song of the bullet (Bret Harte)
  • To Daffodils (Robert Herrick) [1916]
  • Violets (George Meredith) [1927]
  • When Death to either shall come (Robert Bridges) [1923]
Violin and piano
  • Giboulée
  • Enchanted April


  1. ^ Tomalin, Claire (8 May 2009). "Forgotten voice". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  2. ^ France, John (29 July 2009). "The Songs of Muriel Herbert – A Great New Discovery". British Classical Music: The Land of Lost Content. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Songs of Muriel Herbert". Linn Records. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  4. ^ "Composer: Muriel Emily Herbert (1897–1984)". Lied, Art Song and Choral Text Archive. Rec Music Foundation.

External links[edit]

Selected sheet music: