Saturday, August 22, 2015

Thomas Moore's "'Tis The Last Rose of Summer" - Some Notes About The Tune's History


"'Tis The Last Rose of Summer" was and is one of the most successful and most beloved songs of Thomas Moore's famous Irish Melodies. It appeared first in the 5th volume of this series that was published in December 1813 (pp. 16-21, at BStB-DS):

A while ago I wrote about the song's history in Germany where it also became a very popular "Volkslied" (see this text). But the tune has also a very interesting pre-history that is worth sketching and discussing here. Moore found the melody with the title "The Groves of Blarney" in a collection published a couple of years earlier (see Chinnéide, p. 120): 
  • A Collection of Old Established Irish Slow & Quick Tunes Arranged for the Harp, Piano Forte, Violin, Flute, Flageolett Or Bagpipes, Selected and Published by S. Holden, Dublin, n. d. [c. 1805/6], I, p. 18 (available at IMCO; also SITM II, No. 4510) 
 This was the first and only time this melody was printed before the publication of his song. Holden's tune book happened to be a very important source for Moore who borrowed there all in all nearly 30 tunes (see Chinnéide, p. 113). In case of "The Groves of Blarney" he did not use it unchanged but of course "altered" it a little bit, as he himself later noted in a letter to his publisher (see Chinnéide, p. 122) and also left out the refrain. 

"The Groves of Blarney" was a popular song written circa 15 years earlier by Richard A. Milliken (1767-1815, see Hadden, DNB 37, p. 437), a jurist, writer, artist and editor living in Cork, as a parody of an older song with the title "Castle Hyde". There is a colorful story about these two songs that was first published in a memoir added to a posthumous edition of his Poetical Fragments (London, 1823) and then reprinted in 1839 by Thomas Crofton Croker in his Popular Songs of Ireland (pp. 141-2). This is worth quoting here in parts once again because it shows nicely how and why such songs were created: 
"An itinerant poet [...] composed a song in praise [...] of Castle Hyde, the beautiful seat of the Hyde family on the river Blackwater; but, instead of the expected renumeration, the poor poet was driven from the gate by order of the then proprietor, who, from the absurdity of the thing, conceived that it could be only meant as mockery [...] The author, however, well satisfied of its merits, and stung with indignation and disappointment, vented his rage in an additional verse against the owner, and sung it wherever he had an opportunity of raising his angry voice [...] the song became a favourite with the lower orders; then found its way into ballads, and at length into the convivial meetings of gentlemen. It was in one of those that Mr. Milliken undertook, in the gaiety of the moment, to produce a song that, if not superior, should at least equal in absurdity to 'Castle Hyde'; and accordingly adopting the tune, and taking Blarney for his subject, he soon made good of his promise [...]". 
This apparently happened in 1798 or 1799 and according to Croker it was Milliken's intention "to ridicule the songs which ignorant Irish village bards [...] were, and still are, in the habit of composing". I will only quote here the first verse (from Croker 1839, p. 147) : 
The Groves of Blarney they are so charming,
All by the purling of sweet silent streams,
Being banked with posies that spontaneous grow there,
Planted in order by the sweet rock close.
'Tis there's the daisy and sweet carnation,
The blooming pink, and the rose so fair;
The daffydowndilly, besides the lilly, -
Flowers that scent the sweet fragrant air.
Oh, ullagoane, &c.
[...] 
Here we can also see of course the cultural clash between the Anglo-Irish elite, represented by Mr. Milliken, and the local Irish population, represented by this particular "village bard". Later Irish writer and song collector Patrick Weston Joyce (1909, No. 395, p. 203) saw it the other way round and called Milliken's piece a "vile caricature" while describing "Castle Hyde" as a "well conceived and very spirited" song, a "celebrated composition" and a "general favourite". Here is again only the first verse, as quoted by Joyce: 
As I roved out on a summer's morning
Down by the banks of Blackwater side,
To view the groves and the meadows charming.
The pleasant garden of Castle Hyde;
'Tis there I heard the thrushes warbling,
The dove and partridge I now describe;
The lambkins sporting on ev'ry morning,
All to adorn sweet Castlehyde.
[...] 
Both of these songs were apparently not printed at the time of their writing. Only much later during the 19th century the lyrics were regularly published on broadsides in Ireland and England and it seems that they remained popular for a long time (see Broadside Ballads Online: "Castle Hyde" & "The Groves of Blarney").

The writer of "Castle Hyde" is of course not known. In an earlier publication in 1824 Croker had claimed it was a "drunken cobbler" (p. 129) while in 1888 Sparling in his Irish Minstrelsy (p. 504) noted that "a weaver named Barrett, about 1790" had created this text. But more interesting would be the original tune of this song. According to the story about Milliken it should have been the same as "The Groves of Blarney" even though it was later sung to others (see Joyce, p. 203). But thankfully Edward Bunting has collected a variant from a harper, most likely in 1792, which also shows that the song really existed at that time. It includes a refrain but the characteristic melodic motive at the start is somewhat obscured by passing notes and not easily discernible (reprinted in Audley, pp. 229-30).

There is one more unpublished version by Bunting, "collected in Ulster between 1805 and 1810" and wrongly notated in common time (reprinted in Audley, pp. 224-5). Another variant of the tune with that title was published in 1814 in Edward Fitzsimons' Irish Minstrelsy ("Oh shrive me father, or The Confession of Devorgilla", p. 41; SITM II, No. 5368). In 1816 George Thomson included a song called "The Kiss dear Maid, thy Lip has left", with words by Lord Byron and arranged by Beethoven, in the second volume of his Select Collection of Original Irish Airs (No. 37, pp. 89-90; SITM II, No. 5420). This tune, in common time and "communicated without a name by a friend", looks like it also belongs to this group. But none of the melodies represent a version of "Castle Hyde" that could have served as a precursor of "The Groves of Blarney". Of course this is not surprising. Musicians always introduced musical variations, especially as long as a tune was not yet codified in print. 

There is a fitting tune in the second edition of R. A. Smith's Irish Minstrel, published in 1828 ("Be mine the home", p. 10, here from SITM II, No. 5760), that looks exactly like it should look. In fact it is very similar to "The Groves of Blarney". But I wouldn't put too much trust in its authenticity. At that time Holden's collection had been available for 22 years, and Moore's "Last Rose" for 15 years. It is easily possible that it shows the influence of these two tune variants. Not at least Milliken's story had been published 5 years ago and Smith was surely aware of the song's history.

Both "Castle Hyde" and "Groves of Blarney" are also seen as belonging to a tune family around he song "Young Man's Dream" (see f. ex. Moffat, p. 285, p. 341, see Audley 2000, an excellent overview), which was known both in Scotland and in Ireland. The earliest versions appeared in the Scots Musical Museum in 1788: "Young Man's Dream" (II, No. 126, p. 131) and "I Dream'd I Lay" (II, No. 146, p. 153), the latter with words by Robert Burns (see Dick, No. 310, notes, p. 475). The first printed Irish variant can be found in Cooke's Selection of Twenty One Favorite Irish Airs (Never before Printed), published in Dublin in 1795 (p. 9, at UoP, Digital Library). Edward Bunting included one version in 1797 in his General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music (No. 17, p. 10) which, by the way, was used by Thomas Moore in the first volume of the Irish Melodies for his song "Oh! When that mild eye is beaming" (pp. 56-61). But these tunes are all not particularly helpful for a history of "Castle Hyde" and "The Groves of Blarney". Nor are possible precursors of this tune family like the different variants of "Ned of the Hill" (mentioned by Audley, p. 243-246). 

But interestingly both Fleischmann in his Sources of Traditional Irish Music (see SITM I, No. 1175, and references to No. 4510) and Olson (Early Irish Tune Title Index) point in another direction where we can find the most probable precursor of our tune. The 3rd volume of Scottish composer and publisher James Oswald's Caledonian Pocket Companion, a "Favourite Collection of Scotch Tunes", includes a piece with the title "St. Martin's Church Yard" (London, c. 1751, p. 25) :

The relationship is most obvious when looking at the opening measures and compare them to those of "Groves of Blarney" and "'Tis The Last Rose Of Summer":

Olson (Early Irish Tune Title Index) notes that "St Martin's Church Yard" was "Oswald's business address, and the tune is undoubtedly his". John Purser (Notes to CPC, Vol. 3, p. 12) sees it as a "radically altered version" of "St. Martin's Lane", a tune from John Playford's Dancing Master (see here in 1709 edition, p. 197) but I have serious problems seeing a relationship between these two pieces. In fact he also admits that it "amounts to a recomposition and can be reasonably credited to" Oswald. 

How come parts of this piece end up in "The Groves of Blarney" and perhaps "Castle Hyde", more than four decades later? Oswald's Companion was a very popular tune collection and easily available for a very long time. Reprints were published even after his death. And of course a book like this was surely used by musicians of all kinds. 

Should we then regard James Oswald as the original writer of the tune that later became the one of Moore's "'Tis The last Rose of Summer"? Maybe not. I would not go that far. These melodies are of course not completely identical. But Oswald has created - or at least first published - this characteristic melodic motive, the major ingredient of the famous tune. The problem is only that we don't know how and when the melody was adopted in Ireland. It had started its life as a popular tune in London and only much later mutated into an "Irish" tune, perhaps when it was combined with elements of a precursor of "The Young Man's Dream" and therefore also became part of that particular tune family. In fact we can draw a direct line from "St. Martin's Church Yard" to "Groves of Blarney" and "'Tis The last Rose Of Summer".

Moore's song then served as the starting-point for a new line of tradition with its own off-springs. Other editors of Irish songbooks quickly made use of his variant. The first one was George Thomson in Edinburgh. He had already produced several volumes of his Select Collection of Scottish Airs (since 1793) as well as two books of Welsh tunes (1809/11) and at that time was busy working on an Irish collection, no doubt inspired by the great success of Moore's series. Thomson had hired Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna to write the arrangements and in April 1814, very shortly after the publication of the 5th volume of the Irish Melodies he send him two of its highlights, not only "Groves of Blarney" but also the tune of "Minstrel Boy" (for the date see Cooper, pp. 22-3, 216)

In fact Thomson must have been a faithful admirer of Moore's works because he borrowed some more tunes from them. But the feeling was surely mutual. Not only was the concept of the Irish Melodies indebted to Mr. Thomson's Scottish collections. Moore had also lifted a considerable amount of tunes from these books, at least seven until 1813 (see Chinneide, pp. 118-23). And of course both used their borrowings without any acknowledgment of their sources, as it was common at that time. 

"Groves of Blarney" - like the tune of "Minstrel Boy" as well as others taken from the Irish Melodies - appeared in 1816 in the second volume of Thomson's Select Collection of Original Irish Airs (No. 33, pp. 79-80 ; see SITM II, No. 5416), arranged by Beethoven and with a new text by one William Smyth ("Sad and luckless was the season"). There are also some minor changes of the tune, no doubt produced by Thomson himself to make it look a little bit different from Moore's version and to suggest that this was new variant from a different source. Interestingly Beethoven later also wrote some instrumental variations for this tune that then were published in 1819 in Vienna (Six Themes Varies, op. 105, No. 4, at Beethoven-Haus, Bonn). For some reason here it was called "Air Ecossais". 

Some years later, in 1825, R. A. Smith included "Groves of Blarney" á la Moore in his Irish Minstrel, here with a new text by one Mr. Knox ("She left us when spring-time", p. 56). But neither Thomson's nor Smith's versions proved successful. It was Moore's song that became immensely successful, not only in Britain and the USA but also in Germany, and made this tune famous around the world. 

Literature: 
  • Brian Audley, The Provenance of the Londonderry Air, in: Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 125/2, 2000, pp. 205-247 
  • Veronica ní Chinnéide, The Sources of Moore's Melodies, in: The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 89, No. 2, 1959, pp. 109-134 
  • Barry Cooper, Beethoven's Folksong Settings. Chronology, Sources, Style, Oxford & New York 1994
  • Thomas Crofton Croker, Researches of the South of Ireland, Illustrative of The Scenery, Architectural Remains, and the Manners and Superstitions of the Peasantry. With an Appendix Containing a Private Narrative of the Rebellion of 1796, London, 1824 (available at the Internet Archive
  • Thomas Crofton Croker, The Popular Songs of Ireland. Collected and Edited, With Introductions and Notes, London, 1839 (at the Internet Archive
  • James C. Dick (ed.), The Songs of Robert Burns, London 1903 (available at The Internet Archive
  • James Cuthbert Hadden, "Milliken, Richard Alfred", in: Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 37, New York & London, 1894, p. 437 (at the Internet Archive
  • P. W. Joyce, Old Irish Folk Music And Songs. A Collection Of 842 Irish Airs And Songs, Hitherto Unpublished, Dublin 1909 (available at The Internet Archive)
  • Alfred Moffat, The Minstrelsy of Ireland. 200 Irish Songs Adapted To Their Traditional Airs, London 1898 (available at the Internet Archive
  • Bruce Olson, Early Irish Tune Title Index, 2001 
  • John Purser, Notes, The Caledonian Pocket Companion by James Oswald, Volume One (Books 1-6), CD Rom, Modern Edition by John & Barbara Purser, Nick Parkes, 2006 
  • [SITM=] Aloys Fleischmann (ed.), Sources Of Irish Traditional Music, C. 1600 - 1855, 2 Vols., New York & London 1998 
  • H. Halliday Sparling, Irish Minstrelsy: Being a Selection of Irish Songs, Lyrics and Ballads, London, 1888 (available at the Internet Archive)

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