Music of the “Cult of Whitman”: Charles Villiers Stanford's Elegiac Ode

Between 1884 and 1914, English musical taste was completing a profound shift from the sentimentality of light drawing room ballads and popular songs toward more serious-minded works. Professionalized composers sought to express high moral and humanistic ideals— undoubtedly English—as opposed to continental values. One source for their works was the poetry of the American, Walt Whitman (1819-1892). Whitman had been one figure in the English-American cultural war which was waged since the early 19th century. Whitman was thought by most English as not a ‘proper poet’ because his works fall so far outside their tradition, thus making his poetry an odd choice for a musical setting in Britain. This thesis examines the reception of Whitman’s poetry in England, the late Victorian musical climate, and analyzes Charles Villiers Stanford’s musical setting Elegiac Ode with the goal of determining how Whitman’s poetry impacted the work.