Victorian Valentines

A cycle of five songs for soprano and piano with texts by women of the Victorian era, 2022

Range: D4–A5
Duration: 14 minutes

Click here to see composer's notes

Victorian Valentines is a cycle of five songs—settings of poems by four Victorian women from England. Two of the poets are well-known: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861) and Christina Rossetti (1830–1894). The other two are lesser-known poets: Rosamund Marriott Watson (1860–1911) and Edith Nesbit (1858–1924).

Rosamund Marriott Watson wrote many articles about gardening, interior design, art, and fashion for various magazines. However, her poetry was her greatest success. Her poems use a variety of forms and cover a wide range of topics. For a couple of years, she was the editor of Sylvia’s Journal, a feminist-leaning women’s monthly magazine. “Welcome, O Best Beloved” is a setting of the second half of a poem entitled “Chimæra,” which is from Watson’s 1891 publication, A Summer Night and Other Poems.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote poetry from the age of 4, and her first published book of poems came in 1844. This publication drew the admiration of many readers, including Robert Browning, who wrote her a fan letter. This correspondence grew into a courtship, and the couple married in 1845. During their marriage, Elizabeth’s reputation exceeded that of her husband. Her poetry influenced other writers, including the American poets Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe. In addition to writing, Elizabeth campaigned for the abolition of slavery and supported child labor reform. “If Thou Must Love Me” is number 14 from her collection of 44 love sonnets entitled Sonnets from the Portuguese, published in 1850.

Edith Nesbit is best known as an author of books for children, but she also wrote poetry, novels, horror stories, and other short stories. In addition, she was a political activist and co-founder of the Fabian Society, a socialist organization. Although she was her family’s breadwinner, she did not champion women’s rights. She opposed women’s suffrage, mainly because she was afraid that women would vote for the Tory Party, thus harming the socialist cause. Some of her work was published in Sylvia’s Journal while it was under the editorship of Rosamund Marriott Watson.

Christina Rossetti’s first published poems appeared in the literary magazine Athenaeum in 1848. Her first commercially printed poetry collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems, was published in 1862 and brought her much praise from many people, including the well-known poets Alfred Tennyson and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Some critics called her the natural successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who had died one year earlier. In addition to writing, she worked as a volunteer at a refuge for ex-prostitutes. She opposed slavery in the US (it had been abolished in the UK in 1834), cruelty to animals, and the exploitation of girls in under-age prostitution. For most of her life, she lived with her mother, for whom she was in the habit of writing a poem on Valentine’s Day. “A World of Change and Loss” is her poem from 1883, when her mother was 82 years old. “My Heart Is Like a Singing Bird” is a setting of Rossetti’s poem “A Birthday” from Goblin Market and Other Poems.

1. Welcome, O Best Beloved (Rosamund Marriott Watson)

2. If Thou Must Love Me (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

3. St. Valentine's Day (Edith Nesbit)

4. A World of Change and Loss (Christina Rossetti)

5. My Heart Is Like a Singing Bird (Christina Rossetti)

Available at:

Graphite Publishing
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