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October 26, 2012

With Edgar Allan Poe on my mind, sharing a musical version of 'Annabel Lee'

This week, "The Completely Fictional -- Utterly True -- Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe" opened at Center Stage, offering a hefty reminder of Baltimore's most iconic former resident.

I will have more to say about the play shortly. Meanwhile, I wanted to share a song that started running through my head anew.

It's my favorite musical setting of Poe-etry -- "Annabel Lee," by the English composer Henry Leslie.

I think of it as a perfect example of the Victorian drawing room ballad and an awfully effective treatment of Poe's bittersweet words, with a well-crafted melody that works its way quickly into the ear and the telltale 6/8 meter long associated with the sea. Seems like it should be much better known.

I don't think the song could be more elegantly sung than it is here by the late Robert Tear, accompanied at the piano by Andre Previn:

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:01 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens


I'm a lifelong Poe-etry fan but Leslie's setting of 'Annabel Lee' is a new discovery for me. What a tasty performance! Thank you for sharing this.

Glad you liked it. I discovered it on an album of Victorian songs and instantly loved it. Seems to me it should be much better known. TIM

That's one of the best musical adaptations of any of Poe's works I've heard--certainly the finest rendition of "Annabel Lee." Thanks so much for bringing that to our attention!

Happy to be of service. It is such a gem. If Victorian ballads ever made a comeback, this one should be high up on the revival list. TIM

Thank you for this. It has long been a favourite of mine since I heard my Grandfather sing it in the 1950's,at Christmas ,with the family listening round the piano.I was a small child,but the hauntingly beautiful words and music stayed with me ever since. This is a great rendition by two very talented musicians.

I am delighted that you enjoyed it, and that you took the time to tell me. The first time I heard this recording, my ears perked up like crazy. And, just as you experienced, the melody has never left my head. I hope to find the sheet music some day, a quest I imagine would be a little easier in the UK. Thanks again for the comments. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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