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Nancy Head (1907-1991), the wife of Alan Bush, was involved with the Workers' Music Association and Topic Records.


"The first collaboration between my husband and myself as composer and writer took place in 1943, when he set a short poem of mine called Toulon for soprano solo, mixed chorus and piano accompaniment. The verses described the scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon harbour in defiance of the Vichy government during the German occupation of France, an act of courage which I think raised the spirits of everyone in Great Britain during that dark period of the war. The work was written for the choir of the Workers' Music Association—the 'WMA Singers,' as they were called—and it was sung by them in various broadcasts and at other concerts in the London area. Alan, who was then serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps at Milbank Hospital, London, was given permission by his Commanding Officer to conduct for the BBC on these occasions. For some years before this I had at Alan's request translated a number of choral songs, mostly from the German, which were added to the repertoire of the WMA Singers and before that, of the London Labour Choral Union, the group of choirs which had preceded them. Alan was musical advisor of the Choral Union, following Rutland Boughton, and he became the chairman of the WMA on its foundation in 1936. The first of these translations was made in 1929 of a choral piece called Brot und Arbeit (Song of Labour), with words by George Herwegh and music by Hans von Bulow. Even at this early stage I began to learn the value of choosing short plain words for the vocal line, if possible not longer than two syllables, and the need to build up a really singable climax in the last verse. I had only just begun to learn German, but Alan was then as always extremely encouraging and persuaded me to overcome my diffidence. The translations made between 1929 and 1943—we were married in 1931—were in a way an apprenticeship for our later work together."

—Nancy Head


Hymn to Riego


 

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