Saturday, October 19, 2013

Flashback: At the Music Hall: Goodbye Little Yellow Bird

This post first appeared on October 16, 2010.  I thought that it would be a nice companion to the day's posts.

Yellow Warbler
© Joseph Crisalli

The snow was very plentiful
And crumbs were very few
When a weather-beaten sparrow to a mansion window flew
Her eye fell on a golden cage
A sweet love song she heard
Sung by a pet canary there
A handsome yellow bird
He said to her, “Miss Sparrow, I’ve been struck by cupid’s arrow.
Will you share my cage with me?”
She looked up at his castle
With its ribbon and its tassel
And in plaintiff tones said she:
“Goodbye, little yellow bird, 
I’d rather brave the cold
On a leafless tree, 
Than a prisoner be,
In a cage of gold.”

British composer Clarence Wainwright Murphy, an extremely prolific creator of theatrical and music hall songs, teamed with lyricist W. Hargreave in 1903 to write Little Yellow Bird (also known as Goodbye, Little Yellow Bird). The song is a sentimental tale of the decision to choose freedom over love and a commentary on the classes.

Angela Lansbury as Sybil Vane in
The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1945
Turner Home Entertainment
The lyrics describe a scene of a poor sparrow who is tortured by the elements, but would prefer to shiver than to be trapped in an opulent cage. Little Yellow Bird was immensely popular in the music halls of England. It’s popularity led to its use in the 1938 film, Alf’s Button, and later in the stunning 1945 version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. In the latter, a young Angela Lansbury sings Little Yellow Bird as sweet music gall girl Sybil Vane. This is Dorian’s first encounter with the girl and he quickly falls in love with her. Had Sybil taken the advice of the sparrow in her song and stayed out of that gilded cage, she might not have met the end that she did. Enjoy this clip from The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Miss Lansbury, in Murder She Wrote, as Jessica's cousin, Emma, performs the song again.  I searched and searched, but could not find a clip of it.

No comments: