Smith and music 

Stevie Smith wrote that one of the influences on her poetry were the hymns she sang as a child, and she often half sang her poems to the tune of carols or traditional songs or hymns. One of her poems is even titled 'To the Tune of the Coventry Carol', although the subject has nothing to do with the carol. A number of musicians have written musical adaptations to Stevie's poems and prose.

Musical adaptations by Elisabeth Lutyens 

The composer Elizabeth Lutyens composed musical settings for some of Stevie's poems, and in 1949 there was a performance of these by the singer Hedli Anderson. The audience was enthusiastic, and Barbera and O'Brien in their biography wonder if this encouraged Stevie to incorporate more singing and chanting in the performance of her poems as time passed. In 1967 some of Elisabeth Lutyens settings were included in a performance of poetry and music. Whether Stevie actually liked the settings or not seems doubtful, she apparently had very demanding requirements and often disliked professional performances of her poems.

Musical performances by Peter Dickinson

The pianist and composer Peter Dickinson  and his sister Meriel performed a musical adaptation for mezzo and piano of some of Smith's poems under the title Stevie's Tunes in 1984. He had met Stevie Smith when she gave a reading at the College of St Mark and St John in Chelsea in the mid 1960s.

Peter Dickinson's CD British Song includes these songs performed by Peter and Meriel. The CD can be bought or downloaded through the composers web site  Individual songs from Stevie's Tunes can  also be downloaded at iTunes  from Peter Dickinson's album British Song.

Visit Peter Dickinson's web site at  

Musical adaptations by Simon Rowland-Jones

 Simon Rowland Jones   composed a setting for seven of Stevie's poems:  The River Debden, Frog Prince, Not Waving but Drowning, Harold's leap, River Humber, She Said, and The River God.  He and Hermione Lee performed  this 'River God Sequence'  at various venues, including the Cheltenham Festival in the late 80's and at the Stevie Smith Conference in Jesus College Oxford in March 2016. 

Rowland Jones also adapted Smith's radio play, 'A Turn Outside' and set it to music. This was performed at the North Norfolk Festival in 2005 and again in 2014 and also at the Wigmore  Hall in October 2007 

Simon Rowland-Jones' site is at Listen to a performance of a Turn Outside on

Musical adaptations by Paul Mitchell-Davidson

The composer Paul Mitchell-Davidson was touring America in the 70's and bought a copy of Stevie's poems  from a shop.  It was so different to anything he had read before that he became an immediate admirer, and has set a number of her poems to music. He began in 1978 with Away Melancholy five songs for counter tenor and guitar, which was written for the counter tenor Owen Wynne. A revised version was written in 1996. 

1978 Away Melancholy - Five songs for counter tenor and guitar. Revised version in 1996. Written for counter tenor Owen Wynne. Comprising: Away Melancholy, Cool and Plain, I was so Full, The Broken Heart, Not Waving but Drowning. Away Melancholy' was extensively performed by Paul Mitchell Davidson and Owen Wynne from 1978 and throughout the 80's at recitals and festivals. The 1996 revised version was done as a birthday present for Owen on his 70th birthday.

1985 A Good Time Was Had by All. A contemporary jazz piece for eleven musicians and narrator. In Seven movements, Prologue, Stevie, Suburb, The Galloping Cat, Pretty, The Dedicated Dancing Bull and the Water Maid, O Grateful Colours Bright Looks. First performance at 'The Mill at the Pier, Wigan. Narrated by James McGibbon, directed by Paul Mitchell-Davidson.

Paul Mitchell-Davidson's web page is at  


Link here to Smith’s Lifeconnections, the poems  Cats RolandineFrog PrinceJungle HusbandSuburb Fafnir Smith’s relationship with God  or the Darwin Homepage © Anne Bryan 2018