In the July issue of Musical Opinion Robert Matthew-Walker paid tribute to Carey Blyton, who had recently celebrated his 70th birthday. Now, with great sadness, he writes again, following the news of Blyton’s death.
It was a melancholy experience to learn of Carey Blyton’s death on 14th July, four months after he was able to celebrate his 70th birthday on 14th March this year. As I explained in the piece I wrote for the last issue of Musical Opinion to honour his annus septuagesimus, Carey was an inspiration to others in overcoming at times fearful physical odds.
What was so remarkable about Carey Blyton was the way in which he never let his physical problems interfere with his work, a lifetime’s achievement of which many creative artists would feel justly proud. He was a composer and a working musician in publishing and editing, a poet of delightful nonsense rhymes and a spirit whose undimmed love of life and of people shone from his soul with unmistakeable character and gentleness, underpinned by an inner strength that was often moving to behold.
Carey wrote over 100 works with opus numbers, and in recent months it has been a refreshing and enlightening experience to hear much of his output on a series of compact discs, especially those on the Upbeat label. Whilst they are all valuable for the insight they give to his work, a very recent issue of his songs with orchestra is, to me, the most important of these discs. Listen, if you will, to the Opus&nbps;16 cycle, Lyrics from the Chinese, scored for Tenor and String Orchestra. This is a quite magnificent work, with three of its ten movements scored for strings alone, one of them being purely for solo String Quartet. Of the settings themselves, the Aubade and Drinking Song will certainly appeal to any lover of 20th-Century English music: these are not mildly familiar pieces but a genuine and original voice that speaks directly to us. Nor is the vocal writing without musical challenges, yet it is always superbly crafted for the voice and the balance between tenor and orchestra is finely judged and extremely well projected by Upbeat’s Producer, Liz Biddle. The number is URCD 179.
On the same CD is Carey Blyton’s very late setting for Voice and Piano of his Dirge for St Patrick’s Night, Opus 110: a splendid example of the quality of this too-little-known but admirably gifted composer. In saying that Carey was little-known, I refer to his art music. By far the best-known of his pieces is the genuinely funny Bananas in Pajamas, taken up by Australian Children’s Television and made into a hit programme for the young, the music for which has been known to every Australian child for the last 20 years or so and has been equally successful on British TV.
Carey was a dear man and a gracious artist. The recent richly deserved civic tribute paid to him in his native Beckenham gave him great pleasure, although he could only see it on the special video made of the occasion. He will indeed be deeply missed.