Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty” is a poem I first became aware via Suede’s borrowing of the first line – “she walks in beauty, like the night” – for their Dog Man Star track “Heroine” (more of which anon) The poem itself was slightly different to my expectation of either dissolute Byron or what “Heroine” (a not-that-subtle pun) might lead me to expect, with its praise of “days in goodness spent” and “a mind at peace with all below / A heart whose love is innocent”
The poem has been set to music various times. There are a fair few choral settings, of which this, composed by Paul Mealor and sung by Tenebrae struck me as most effective :
Indie-Christian act Future of Forestry give a vocal reading reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s trailer staple Solsbury Hill:
And here’s Promyk with a definite 80s vibe, with the vocalist sounding at times like Frankie Goes to Hollywood:
The inevitable acoustic setting is best represented by this ironically rather sunny-sounding version by Bolo
Scottish folk supergroup Salt House addextra verses from Australian bushranger / bankrobber James Alpin McPherson
and their own Ewan McPherson. I am not sure how I feel about these changes – “meet in her troubled eyes” is making it too obviously Romantic – but their version is undeniably powerful.
Back to the classical world. Nicolas Flagello is a composer invariably described as out of his mid-20th Century time. For instance from the official Flagello page
As a composer, Flagello held with unswerving conviction to a view of music as a personal medium for emotional and spiritual expression. This unfashionable view, together with his vehement rejection of the academic formalism that dominated musical composition for several decades after World War II, prevented him from winning acceptance from the reigning arbiters of taste for many years. However, gradually Flagello’s works began to win enthusiastic advocacy.
Finally, Suede took the line “She walks in beauty like the night” for “Heroine”, from “Dog Man Star” Less about virtue in the rest of the song than in Byron’s take, however – “discarding her clothes in the plastic flowers / Pornographic and tragic in black and white”. Here they are live on Jools Holland in 1994: