Monday, October 31, 2016

More Voices Found: Alicia Adelaide Needham

Composer Alicia Needham was born today in 1863 in the Irish town of Oldcastle. Needham is still primarily known for her many secular songs, around four hundred out of her estimated seven hundred compositions, which also included works for piano, marches for brass bands, service music, and of course, hymn tunes. A brief 1904 article in The Sketch reports that she was "particularly happy both in composing martial music and in her lullaby songs."

She studied at Victoria College in Londonderry and later at the Royal Academy of Music (graduating in 1877) where her instructors included composers George Macfarren and Ebenezer Prout. Her songs frequently won prizes, such as for the Irish Music Festival whose competition she won six years in a row. Her most prestigious award was one hundred pounds for The Seventh English Edward, written for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902.  Researcher Christopher Reynolds, on the website of the American Musicological Society ranks her as sixth in a listing documenting the number of songs published by women between 1890 and 1930.

Among her many other accomplishments, she was the first woman to conduct at the Royal Albert Hall, and some of her songs are still sung during the well-known annual Proms celebrations which are held at that venue. She chaired the Pan-Celtic Association for a time and also the Royal National Eisteddfod.

Unfortunately, her hymn tunes are not particularly well-documented. The primary online hymn sites do not list her at all, and I have found only one tune, named SHANNON, which appeared in the Sunday School Hymnary (1905). There are several references to her having written more, but they have not surfaced yet in my research.

Needham died on Christmas Eve in 1945, but apparently stopped composing (or at least publishing) after about 1920.

Since we have no available sound files of her hymn tunes (as with Emma Mundella and so many other women), you can hear her Irish Lullaby (text by Francis Fahy) as sung by tenor William Matteuzzi. If you want to explore further on YouTube, there is also a recording of Needham's song Husheen sung by Dame Clara Butt (who also recorded The Lost Chord by yesterday's hymnwriter Adelaide Procter).

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