I’m sure there are plenty of In the Muse readers who share my love for the hit series Downton Abbey airing on PBS (am I right?). Every week I tune in to the addictive British period drama and a couple of weeks ago I swooned during that wonderful closing scene where Lady Mary sings “If You Were the Only Girl in the World” at the benefit concert. After humming the tune in my head repeatedly for days after the episode aired, I just had to pull the song from our stacks and play through it on the piano. The song, with music by Nathaniel D. Ayer and words by Clifford Grey, was featured in The Bing Boys Are Here, a musical revue that premiered in London in 1916 and provided the British public with the kind of uplifting entertainment needed during difficult times.
After satisfying my musical craving by playing through the song, I began to wonder what other songs Lady Mary might have performed with Lady Edith at such a benefit concert in England during the Great War? Other hit shows of the World War I period include The Maid of the Mountains (1917), Chu Chin Chow (1916), and Yes, Uncle! (1917). These shows introduced much-loved songs such as “Love Will Find a Way” and “Paradise for Two” from The Maid of the Mountains and “The Cobbler’s Song” and “Any time’s Kissing Time” from Chu Chin Chow. You can browse our holdings for sheet music selections from shows by searching the wonderful It’s Showtime! Sheet Music from Stage and Screen database on the Performing Arts Encyclopedia.
This week’s Sheet Music of the Week features not a selection from one of these musical comedies and revues, but a separate wartime ballad that was published in London in 1916 – “Roses of Picardy” with music by Haydn wood and lyrics by Fred E. Weatherly. “Roses of Picardy” was a favorite of British soldiers, particularly those who fought in Picardy (like Matthew Crawley – remember, he was in Amiens at the beginning of the most recent episode!). Take a look at the music and listen to the Irish tenor John McCormack’s 1919 recording of the ballad, one infused with nostalgia, longing, and ever-steady love just as Lady Mary conveyed with her performance at the benefit concert!