Harty’s <i>Ode to a Nightingale</i>: A Confluence of Wagner and Elgar


  • Jeremy Dibble University of Durham




scena, Harty, Nicholls, Wagner


Hamilton Harty, a figure readily associated with an assimilation of Irish culture, in 1907 composed a setting of Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale specially for his wife, the soprano Agnes Nicholls. Nicholls had become a pre-eminent Wagnerian soprano in London thanks largely to the encouragement of Hans Richter who engaged her for many of the major female roles in productions at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. A further aspect of her success were the roles she played in Elgar’s heavily informed Wagnerian oratorios, and especially the role of Mary in The Kingdom at Birmingham in 1906. Hamilton Harty, in his capacity as one of Britain’s finest accompanists, ‘coached’ Nicholls for this role and, in response, composed his own thoroughly Wagnerian Ode to a Nightingale the following year. This article seeks not only to connect Harty’s work with the influence of Wagner and Elgar but also to identify the powerful connection poetically and musically between Harty’s ‘scena’ and Wagner’s Tristan.

Author Biography

Jeremy Dibble, University of Durham

Jeremy Dibble is Professor of Music at the University of Durham and Vice-President of the Stanford Society. His specialist interests in the Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian eras are reflected in the major studies of C. Hubert H. Parry: His Life and Music (1992, rev. 1998)  and Charles Villiers Stanford: Man and Musician (2002), both published by Oxford University Press, and in his recent volume of Parry’s violin sonatas for the Musica Britannica Trust (2003). He has written on a wide range of topics including historiography, opera and church music in Britain, and a monograph John Stainer: A Life in Music (Boydell & Brewer, 2007). His interests in Irish art music are reflected by his books on Michele Esposito (Field Day Press, 2010) and Hamilton Harty: Musical Polymath (Boydell & Brewer, 2013). He is currently working on an analytical study of the music of Frederick Delius, a book of essays on British musical criticism 1850–1950 and a study of Sterndale Bennett’s piano concertos. Musical editor for the Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology (2013) and a contributor to the Cambridge History of Christianity and Oxford History of Anglicanism, he is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music and the Guild of Church Musicians.




How to Cite

Dibble, J. (2016). Harty’s <i>Ode to a Nightingale</i>: A Confluence of Wagner and Elgar. Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland, 11, 57–81. https://doi.org/10.35561/JSMI11153