Maude Valérie White

Maude Valérie White was a French-born English composer who became one of the most successful songwriters of the Victorian period.

Although born near Dieppe in Normandy to upper middle class parents, White and her family moved to England when she was only one year old. She spent her childhood in Heidelberg, Paris, and England, and played the piano from an early age. At seventeen she had already composed her first song. She studied Composition with Oliver May while in London, and Counterpoint and Harmony with W. S. Rockstro while living in Torquay. In 1876 White went to the Royal Academy of Music after she finally persuaded her reluctant mother to allow her to pursue music as a career. While at the Academy she studied Composition with George Alexander Macfarren, and set poems written in English, German, and French.

White was the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Mendelssohn Scholarship, which she received in 1879. In 1883 she went to Vienna for six months to study with Robert Fuchs. he tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade her to extend her composition into more instrumental genres, a task which she never aggressively pursued. As Fuller notes, White’s music during this period of her career is characterized “by careful word setting, expansive melodies, a sense of rhythmic propulsion and an avoidance of clear-cut cadences" (Grove). As Grove indicates, this can be heard in her 1888 setting of Byron's ‘So we'll go no more a-roving’, one of her most enduring songs, which is dedicated to Herbert Beerbohm Tree.

Her setting of Shelley’s ‘My soul is an enchanted boat,’ published in 1882 has been described as ‘one of the best of our language’ (Fuller, 331). Later in the 1890s her musical style developed and shifted to incorporate elements of music from her global travels. Increasingly she also sought to realise in her songs the style of German Lieder. Her ballet ‘The Enchanted Heart’ shows the influence of Russian ballet. Even later, past the turn of the century, her works become more impressionistic, as shown in ‘La Flí»te Invisible’ (Victor Hugo) and ‘Le Foyer’ (Paul Verlaine). Her music creates a dreamy setting “through improvisatory motifs or repeated figures of open fourths or fifths” (Fuller, Grove).

Among other successful titles were Come to me in my dreams, Ye cupids droop each little head, Until (semper fidelis), Mary Morison and My soul is an enchanted boat.