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Claribel (Charlotte Alington Barnard (née Pye) 1830 – 1869 has been described as ‘one of the most commercially successful ballad composers of the 1860s. Her songs were to be heard in British and American homes for the rest of the century, despite her early death.’ She was born and brought up in Louth, in a middle class Victorian home. Although she lived in London for a few years when she was first married, she spent most of her life in northern Lincolnshire, and much of her social life was in Louth. Claribel had started writing poetry as a little girl – one of her earliest recorded poems ran to 20 verses! Although she wrote both words and music to some ballads, she often set the words of some of the most famous poets of the day. Among these were Tennyson, Charlotte Bronte, Longfellow and Charles Kingsley. In the 10 years between the publication of her first piece and her death (at the age of 38) almost 100 compositions appeared on publishers’ lists.
Today the only song of hers which is widely known is ‘Come back to Erin’. However, it is usually attributed as an Irish folk song, and is found in many folk song collections. In the early years of the 20th century two of the foremost singers of the day made recordings of this ballad, more than 40 years after Claribel’s death. The recordings of Nellie Melba (later Dame) and John McCormack are still available – fortunately transferred from wax cylinder to more modern media
In the 1860s and the later part of the 19th century her ballads were performed by the most famous singers of the day. Before downloads, CDs, vinyl or even wax cylinders were thought of, live concerts were the only way of hearing new songs. Boosey and Sons (now Boosey and Hawkes Ltd), a major music publisher, put Claribel under contract, which was quite unusual at the time. By the late 1860s they had about 45 of her works in their catalogue. Some were set as duets, some had been arranged as piano solos, and some were in albums of songs. This compared with 9 songs by Arthur Sullivan (later knighted, of ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’ fame) named in ‘Boosey & Co’s list of Popular Songs’.
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