Friday, May 9, 2014

Some Notes About David Sime's "Edinburgh Musical Miscellany" (1792/3)

One of the most interesting Scottish song collections from the late 18th century is surely The Edinburgh Musical Miscellany, published in Edinburgh in two volumes in 1792 and 1793. Its subtitle was: A Collection Of The Most Approved Scotch, English, And Irish Songs, Set To Music, selected by D. Sime, Edinburgh. Thanks to the National Library of Scotland these two books are easily available at the Internet Archive.

Vol. 1:

Vol. 2:

According to British Musical Biography by Brown and Stratton (Birmingham 1897, p. 373, at the Internet Archive) the editor David Sime had been a "musician and teacher [in Edinburgh], born about the middle of last century [...] he died on July 7, 1807". That's not much and as far as I can see nothing more is known about him. He isn't mentioned in any of the other musical dictionaries I have checked. 

The Edinburgh Musical Miscellany was not his only work. In 1789/90 Sime had already published a small booklet with the title A Select Collection of Favorite Marches, Airs &c. Adapted for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte (see Copac). Later he was also involved in the production of publisher William Whyte's Collection of Scottish Airs (1806). In the preface of that publication he received credit for selecting the songs (quoted by Stenhouse in the Introduction to the new edition of the Scotish Musical Museum, Vol. 1, 1839, pp. lxxiv-v, lxxx). 

What's interesting here is first that Sime included not only Scottish - as for example James Johnson in his Scots Musical Museum - but also, as the subtitle says, English and Irish songs: 
"A place has been impartially given to the Scots, English, and Irish Songs, which have been considered, by the ablest judges, as possessing the greatest merit: and from this circumstance, one great advantage will arise, - the giving an opportunity of comparing the particular character and genius of the different countries" (Vol. 1, Introduction, p. ii). 
Besides that it was also conceived not as an antiquarian but as a popular collection: "every lover of Harmony will find a certain number adapted to his taste" (dto.). Therefore he included both "oldies" and current hits. We can find here not only a lot of well known standards like, to name a few, "Lochaber No More" (p. 16), "Birks of Invermay" (p. 20) and "Yellow Hair'd Laddie" (p. 52) but also "the newest pieces" by songwriters like Arne, Dibdin, Shield, Arnold, Hook "[...] that before this could only be had separately, at a high purchase" (dto., p. 3). Not at least Sime preferred to keep his collection simple and cheap and only published words and tunes, but no accompaniments. 

Of course this concept was not new. Only some years earlier two songbooks called The Musical Miscellany. A Select Collection Of Scots, English And Irish Songs Set To Music (Perth 1786, available at the Internet Archive) and Calliope: Or, The Musical Miscellany. A Select Collection Of The Most approved English, Scottish, And Irish Songs Set To Music (London 1788, available at the Internet Archive) were published. They look strikingly similar to this songbook. One may assume that Sime was familiar with these publications and they may have served as some kind of model for him. In fact the competition on the book market was great but he surely did not lack self-confidence. In the introduction he claims that his book is "superior, it is hoped, to any thing of the kind that has hitherto appeared in this country": 
"In compiling it, particular attention has been paid, more, perhaps, than in any other publication of the same kind, to the setts of the different airs, and the correctness of the music which ought to be the principal recommendation in a work of this nature [...] And, from the professional abilities of the Compiler, it may be further added, that this Volume can be presented with a confidence such publications hitherto have not been entitled to".
Apparently his collection turned met the people's musical taste. Only a year later a second volume was published. In the introduction he noted that "the favourable reception" of the first book "has induced the Editors to bring forward" this new volume, "conducted upon a similar plan, selected, they hope, with equal judgement and taste" (Introduction, p. iii). Again Mr. Sime included a lot of classic songs. I will only mention here "Waly, Waly" and "Love Is The Cause Of My Mourning", both more than a century old at that time. But of course he also offered "the latest and most admired songs of Dibdin, Hook, and other celebrated composers" (dto., p. iv) like for example "Though Bacchus May Boast Of His Care-Killing Bowl" (p. 13). This "song by Mr. Bowden" - written by Shield & Morris, who are of course not credited here - must have been quite popular at that time (see Copac).

It would be interesting to know more of the sources used by Sime. Of course he plundered - like all other compilers of songbooks - earlier collections. For example "My Nanny-O" (II, p. 326) is identical to the version printed in the Scots Musical Museum (Vol. 1, 1787, No. 88, p. 89, at the Internet Archive). But I also wonder how many of the songs published by him had not been printed before. 

This was at least the case for "Robin Adair" II, (p. 304), the Scottish variant of the Irish "Aileen Aroon". The original text - here it was still a drinking song - had been printed earlier in some songsters but Sime was the first one to publish the words and the tune together. In fact his version played a key role in the subsequent history of this particular song family. I am sure that both Burns ("Had I A Cave" & "Phillis The Fair") and Thomas Moore ("Erin, The Tear And The Smile In Thine Eyes) borrowed the tune for their new texts from this book. George Thomson used it - with the words of Burns' "Had I A Cave" and arranged by Pleyel and later by Haydn - in the second volume of his Select Collection. Two decades later a new set of lyrics was introduced by singer John Braham and that version became a great hit and then one of the most popular songs of the 19th century, not only in England but also in the USA. In fact Sime's "Robin Adair" turned out to be the starting-point for the development of an extended song family with descendants even in France and Germany. 

By all accounts David Sime's Edinburgh Musical Miscellany became a very popular and successful song collection. Already in 1794 a new edition of the second volume was published as The New Edinburgh Musical Miscellany (ESTC T301078, ECCO) and in 1804 respectively 1808 a second edition of the complete work came out (see Copac). It only strikes me as very odd that Sime's work has rarely if ever been discussed in the literature about Scottish music history I have seen so far. At best it is mentioned in passing. But I assume that a popular songbook like this sold much better than ambitious coffee table books like Thomson's, Urbani's or Napier's and antiquarian collections like Joseph Ritson's. In fact with its comparatively cheap price and the emphasis on the songs' popularity it was of interest to and affordable for a much wider target audience and therefore much more important for the further survival and dissemination of the old standards or even - as in the case of "Robin Adair" - the creation of new song families. 


This text has grown out of my interest for the history of popular songs since the 18th century and particularly my research into the very fascinating story of "Eileen Aroon" & "Robin Adair". See on my website the two relevant articles, both with extended bibliographies:

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