As I'm gradually pulling together a number of musical releases for 2022, a couple of trends are emerging, each of which demonstrates a radically different view of the use of Blake for musical inspiration.
Blake settings continue to be extremely popular - so much so that I am willing to claim that no other poet has served as a consistent source of inspiration for popular and classical music. The two trends that I wish to explore briefly here, however, represent very divergent uses of his work across choral settings and the experimental edge of ambient and electronic work.
Dealing with the choral pieces first, 2022 saw some truly beautiful pieces released by St Salvator's Chapel Choir and The Oxford Choir. The first of these is the chapel choir of the University of St Andrews whose history extends back to the founding of the university in the 15th century. Their 2022 album, The Tyger and The Lamb is actually a mixture of more traditional Christmas carols (such as Silent Night) and new compositions by Paul Mealor. The Blake settings of The Tyger and The Lamb are among the latter, and each of these are very different: The Lamb is a traditional piece of choral music accompanied by piano that would not sound out of place in a long tradition extending into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Tyger, by contrast, with its sombre cello accompaniment, is a more ambiguous piece with dissonant moments.
Alongside these two recordings, John Rutter also set to music A Cradle Song as Blake's Lullaby, a piece written in aid for Macmillan's Cancer Support. It is a motet for SATB and sweet and harmonious although, as Rutter himself notes, with darker, harmonious undertones that match Blake's original poem.
While Mealor and Rutter may introduce ambivalent themes to their choral settings, they are clearly in a longstanding tradition of music. That is not the case with another artist who is very much a product of the twenty-first century - distributing music via a number of streaming services that allows the Real-Krabbtree Twins/j39 and the 4 Zoas to create a wide range of Blake-inspired music.
The clue that they are linked comes from the fact that all the tracks included below (as well as others on albums with intriguing titles such as The Nine Nights of Vala and The Rest of Evermore) are released by Perez-Robinson and Sons, and indeed the presiding genius seems to be Dr Thomas G. Robinson, who describes himself on Twitter as "a Symbolic Conceptualist, Leadership Consultant, & Blakean Scholar" (and somewhat more prosaically on LinkedIn as a "Cyber Security Compliance Analyst". He has been producing Blake-inspired music for some time now, and while these electronica/ambient tracks do not obviously draw on Blake's lyrics, with titles such as The Daughters of Beulah and Los Entering the Grave, he clearly is profoundly influenced by Blake, drawing on the Romantic in much more oblique ways than the traditional settings of the St Salvator and Oxford choirs.