V. EPHELIA IN ENGLISH SONG
No discussion of Ephelia's work would be complete without a word on the success of Female Poems...by Ephelia in contemporary music circles. The adaptability of her verse to English song was acknowledged during her day in settings by three successful composers, Moses Snow, Thomas Farmer, and William Turner, each noticed in the sixth edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music ('Grove 6'). Ephelia settings by these three musicmen were published, though without attribution, in secular song-books issued by the music-publishing firm of John and Henry Playford (Image 12). ( Restoration Court Composers.)
Illustrating the continuing appeal of Ephelia's lyrical strain is a setting of one of her lyrics by Dr Cecil Armstrong Gibbs of London's Royal College of Music (Gibbs). His seven-page setting of "To One That Asked Me Why I Lov'd J.G." (Female Poems...by Ephelia, 58-59), published in 1937 under the title "Why Do I Love?" by the London firm of Boosey & Hawkes, is scored for voice and piano (Image 13, with reduced-format inset text of "Ephelia"'s poem). The dedicatee of Gibbs's setting is the famous English soprano and cabaret singer, Margaret ("Mabel") Willard Ritchie (1903-1969), a protegée of Henry Wood. According to Stephen Banfield's extended profile in Grove 6, Gibbs set several songs and lyrics from l7th-century English literature (VII: 35-38). But how did Gibbs get on to Ephelia? It may have been the long-term project of Cyrus Lawrence Day and Elaine B. Murrie in the 1930s (English Song-Books, 1651-1702, Oxford, 1937) which brought Ephelia to Gibbs's attention.
In any case, his setting reflects several interesting changes to Ephelia's text. In addition to a few linguistic modernizations, Gibbs's most important change is the time signature he assigns the piece. Gibbs directs the singer and pianist to perform his composition with gusto ("feroce") and in an aggressive "march tempo." The setting's time and Gibbs's directions significantly alter, indeed reconstruct, the poem's original ethos. Ephelia's text evokes a mood of sad, sentimental resignation; and it closes on a note of wistful surrender, "Sure 'tis Decreed in the dark Book of Fate, / That I shou'd Love, and he shou'd be ingrate." Gibbs's setting transmits a righteous feminist anger, a mood he skillfully achieves through tempo, time signature, and performance directions. Aside from a few minor alterations, Gibbs leaves the lyric of his parent-text intact.
Gibbs's Ephelia setting has been performed and recorded by Georgina Anne Colwell of Hersham, Surrey, with accompanist, pianist Nigel Foster. In her compact disk, This Scepter'd Isle (1993), Colwell offers a lively, two-minute sonic portrait of Ephelia (Image 14). I am happy to close this piece with her worthy contribution to "Ephelia" studies and to the current renaissance of interest in women's contribution to English song (Early Musicwomen) --> (For Audio Clip, as well as the full text of the setting's lyric, and Lely's Garter Portrait of Lord Jermyn/Germyn [most probably the poet's "J.G."], click here.)