Music and the Brontës?
I’ll be honest, when I think of the Brontës, music is not necessarily the thing that springs to my mind; tiny books, wild moors, strong heroines, anti-heroes, and even animal rights (thank you, Anne), but music, not really. What I love about the Brontës most of all though is their ability to continue to inspire people creatively and artistically in the two centuries that separate them from us. I adore their fiction, art, and their surviving correspondence. I also love to seek out fiction and literature inspired by our favourite literary family, from plays to novels to poetry and biography. I have a section dedicated to some of my discoveries on Brontë Babe Blog; please click here for my Brontë Inspired Literature page. Maybe because, besides my brief stints of playing the recorder and clarinet as a child, I’ve never had much to do with music. Don’t get me wrong; I listen to music and I have a bit of an eclectic mix stored on my phone which used to see me through my daily commute to work (now it’s Smooth FM as I work from home), but I’ve always been a bookworm. Beyond Kate Bush’s epic 1978 song Wuthering Heights music and the Brontës haven’t always gone hand in hand for me. It seems a shame when we know that Emily in particular was musically gifted. However, just because my mind doesn’t connect the Brontës and music doesn’t mean that their aren’t incredible talents out there who do make this connection.
Beyond Kate Bush
Like I said, we all know of Kate Bush lamenting for Heathcliff to let her in at the window. The song is legendary and deserves to remain so. It seems remarkable to me though that this is pretty much the only piece of Brontë inspired music to really breakthrough into the mainstream to reach not only Brontëites, but also people who have never even heard of the Brontës (shocking, I know). I need an epic song about Jane and Rochester in my life, but also one about Glass Town, Angria, and the exploits of Charles, Zarmorna, Rogue, Mary Percy, Mina Laury et al. Fortunately over the past year or so my eyes have been opened to how people are being inspired by the Brontës to play and write music. I think my first realisation was an encounter on Twitter with the very talented pianist Christoph Stoll (@christoph_stoll). There are some lovely clips of him playing the piano on Twitter and I’d encourage you to seek them out. He specialises in pieces known to have been played by Emily Brontë in particular and it’s really lovely to close your eyes and listen to not just the music known to Emily, but actually played by her.
Courtney Caitlin Music
Another recent discovery of mine was Courtney Caitlin Music. I can’t talk about Brontë inspired music and not bring her to your attention. She’s well worth following on Twitter (@WOResonance) but she also has her own blog site which you can click here to visit, courtneycaitlinmusic.wordpress.com. She has some truly remarkable pieces on there inspired by the sisters’ published adult novels. A lot of the Brontë inspired music I have come across is based on works by Emily and Anne; perhaps it is what is perceived as their greater connection to music and nature that inspires people? However, my absolute favourite on here is the piece inspired by Charlotte’s unfinished novel Emma. I know absolutely nothing about music but I know what I like, and I love this. Mysterious, childlike, and a little bit haunting, it captures the spirit of the fragment so perfectly. Her Jane Eyre inspired piece is also a fresh take on a tale we know so well. Another stand out is the Wuthering Heights inspired piece, but she’s not alone in being inspired by that one. It’s a very different piece to Kate Bush’s though! I will definitely be posting more about Courtney Caitlin Music in the future.
My latest discovery is the music of guitarist and composer, Charlie Rauh, who has beautifully interpreted and re-imagined some of Emily and Anne’s poetry. As I said before, most of the Brontë inspired music I have discovered is based on the works of the two youngest Brontës, but there are never two pieces the same. The Brontës’ spirit and works continue to provide inspiration for fresh and exciting pieces. Charlie’s new album, The Bluebell, is a dreamy, lullaby-esque take on the sisters’ work. Guitars and the Brontës? Hmm. That was my first reaction if I’m being honest, but it works. The slow, gentle strumming really captures the ethos of their poetry. Close your eyes as you listen to the first track, “The Bluebell”, based on Anne’s poem, and tell me you’re not instantly transported to the beautiful Yorkshire moors, a place synonymous with Emily and Anne in particular. To me, it’s a simple piece full of ideas of reflection, the joys of the past, and a sense of wonder at what the future will hold. It’s hauntingly, achingly relevant to 2020.
There are 9 beautiful Brontë inspired tracks on The Bluebell to explore and enjoy.
Here’s the tracklist: The Bluebell (Anne), Careless Gifts are Seldom Prized, Watch Through the Darkest Hours of Night, Faith Shines Equal Arming Me from Fear, Though Weak Yet Longing to Believe, We Were Not Once So Few, With Purpose Pure and High, A Little and A Lone Green Lane, The Bluebell (Emily).
It’s been a pleasure to listen to during lockdown, especially when the weather has been fine and the birds and other wildlife have come to explore our own little patch of nature in the garden. Other favourites of mine on this album are “Watch Through the Darkest Hours of Night”, inspired by Anne’s poem “The Narrow Way”, and “Faith Shines Equal Arming Me From Fear”, inspired by Emily’s “No Coward Soul is Mine”. The power of Emily’s sentiments shine through in this piece which rises and falls to match her words and passion in the original poem. Most of these tracks also seem to have a folk-song influence which meshes surprisingly well with the spirit of Emily and Anne’s works, but then again, they were influenced by the folklore of Yorkshire, Cornwall, and Ireland so there is a sense Charlie is drawing this element of their works out and blending it with his own. The album ends as it began, with a track called “The Bluebell”, but this one is based on Emily’s works rather than Anne’s. Like the written works of the sisters, the two Bluebells on here have their similarities and their differences too and make for fascinating listening back to back.
The album is interesting as a collaborative piece between Charlie and his siblings, Christopher and Christina, evoking the collaborations of Anne and Emily with their shared world of Gondal and diary papers so long ago. After recording the tracks, Charlie sent them and the poems that inspired him to his siblings who then produced miniature paintings and their own diary papers in the style of Emily and Anne. Spare two minutes of your time to check out the little video documenting this process below. The song playing in the background is taken from The Bluebell and is called “With Purpose Pure And High”.
The Bluebell is due for release on 28th August 2020 through Destiny Records. It’s well worth a listen. There are some fantastic limited edition copies of the Rauhs’ diary papers which will be available too with downloads of the album. I’d like to thank Destiny Records and Charlie for reaching out to me with this album. If I didn’t like it, it wouldn’t be on here. End of story. It’s more than just music, it’s an entire Brontë inspired, family project true to the spirit of Emily and Anne. For more information on Charlie, he has own website, https://www.charlierauh.com/.
Branwell and the Future?
Hopefully we are seeing a new wave of Brontë inspired music although I doubt anything will ever remove Kate Bush from people’s minds when they think of music and the Brontës,. However this currently very slim canon can certainly be added to as the information above shows. If there are any budding composers and musicians out there who feel the need to compose some kind of anthem for Glass Town and Angria, or are inspired by the bloodshed, war, and politics of Branwell’s juvenilia, then give me a shout. I think that would be rather fascinating.
In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon (2007-2019)
A lover of life, music, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
Thanks for reading. I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
Please do not copy, share, or use the images from this post. Featured image of music is courtesy of Marius Maslar on Unsplash. The Bluebell cover art is by Lena Laub. Image of Charlie Rauh – photography by Alice Teeple.