Friday, September 11, 2015

"Melodies of Different Nations": Anthologies of International "National Airs" in Britain 1800-1830 - Pt. 2

Go back to Part 1 

As we have seen Mr. Thomson from Edinburgh didn't manage to compile a collection of international airs. I don't doubt that this would have been an interesting publication, especially with Beethoven writing the arrangements. But Thomas Moore, at that time the most popular modern songwriter, took the chance and once again he struck gold: 
  • A Selection of Popular National Airs with Symphonies and Accompaniments by Sir John Stevenson MusDoc; [Henry R. Bishop]. The Words by Thomas Moore, Esq., 6 Volumes, J. Power, London, 1818-1828 (first 3 Vols. digitized by BStB: 4 35243-(1-3) [click on Einzelbände]; also available at Google Books: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3; at the Internet Archive; otherwise see a later complete ed.: Charles W. Glover (ed.), National Airs, with Words by Thomas Moore, Longman, Green, Longman & Roberts, London 1860, available at the Internet Archive
I don't know if this was his own idea or his publisher's but he managed to bring out the best and most successful collection of this kind. Once again Sir John John Stevenson wrote the arrangements. In the preface - the "Advertisement" - to the first volume Moore wrote about "the abundance of wild, indigenous airs, which almost every country, except England, possesses" and praised his work with a humbleness that could only grow out of great self-confidence: 
"The lovers of this simple, but interesting, kind of music are here presented with the First Number of a collection, which, I trust, their contributions will enable us to continue. A pretty air without words resembles one of those half creatures of Plato, which are described as wandering in search of the remainder of themselves through the world. To supply this other half, by uniting with congenial words the many fugitive melodies, which have hitherto had none, or only such as are unintelligible to the generality of their hearers, is the object and ambition of the present work [...] As the music is not my own, and the words are little more than unpretending interpreters if the sentiment of each air, it will not be thought presumption in me to say, that I consider it one of the simplest and prettiest collections of songs to which I have ever set my name" .
The critics did agree: 
"This is a truly elegant little book in every sense; and we know not when we have been so gratified by music and words of such a kind [...] The author of the poetry has here given us one clue to his fertility in the production of words which speak so deliciously to the heart, and too often so voluptuously to the sense, while they are in the finest accordance with the melodies [...]" (Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review 1, 1818, pp. 225-9). 
A writer for the Gentleman's Magazine (90 I, 1820, pp. 521-2) declared that this was "one of the most pleasing collections of the kind we ever recollect to have met with" and praised "the delightful poetry" as "some of the most highly polished specimens of the art of Songwriting we know in the English language". This volume included tunes said to be from from, for example, India, Spain, Portugal, Scotland, Hungary and some of the songs became very popular, especially "Oft in the stilly night", "Flow on, thou shining river", "Those Evening Bells" and of course "Hark! the Vesper Hymn is stealing". Interestingly the reviewer in the Quarterly Musical Magazine (p. 228) noted that the tune of the latter - according to Moore a "Russian air" - sounded suspiciously similar to a song published about a decade earlier, "Hark to Philomela singing" by one William Knyvett (c. 1807). 

This means that we should not always take for granted what Moore claimed about all these tunes' origins. But this is a general problem with these collections, not only Moore's but also the others that were published after him. The sources of the melodies are difficult to find and often enough one gets the impression that the musical input of the songwriters and arrangers was somewhat bigger than it should have been. But we should not forget that these were first and foremost collections of popular songs and not scholarly compilations like - for example - Mr. Crotch's Specimens

Moore published five more volumes of this series until 1828, now with composer Henry Rowley Bishop as the arranger. The second book also got favorable reviews (see The Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review 2, 1820, pp. 233-41) but in the end he apparently ran out of steam. Volume 6 was not received kindly by the reviewer of The Harmonicon (1828, p. 62): 
"The sixth number [...] shows such decided symptoms of exhausted materials, that we should advise that it be the last. Among the many pieces which the volume contains [...] we have not been able to discover a single page, not even a line, that has the remotest chance of resting in memory [...]" 
In fact this was the last number. But nonetheless the Popular National Airs remained the most successful example of this particular genre of song collections. They were known even in Germany. Friedrich Silcher in Tübingen plundered Moore's work for his own Ausländische Volksmelodien (4 Vols., 1835-41, see this text in my blog), the most popular German collection of foreign "Volkslieder". His versions of some of Moore's songs, especially "Hark! the Versper Hymn is stealing" and - from Vol. 4 - "Here sleeps the bard" are known and performed until today. 
  • Melodies of Various Nations. With Symphonies and Accompaniments by Henry R. Bishop [Sir John Stevenson]. The Words by Thomas H. Bayly, Esq., Author of Rough Sketches of Bath, 4 Vols, Goulding, D'Almaine & Potter, London, n. d. [1821-1830]
    (available at Nanki Music Library
Publishers Goulding, D'Almaine & Potter were obviously great fans of the Popular National Airs. Therefore they started a series that can only be called a shameless copy, or in the words of one reviewer, "one of the imitations to which Mr. Moore's genius and writings have given rise" (Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review 4, 1822, p. 74). They even hired the same arrangers, Bishop for Vols. 1, 3 & 4 and Stevenson for Vol. 2. Thomas H. Bayly wrote the new lyrics. Later he would become a successful and popular songwriter but here he was still at the start of his career. 

The first volume included included 12 songs with tunes said to be from all kinds of different countries, like Portugal, France, Tyrol, Italy and others. But I would not be too sure about that. The melody of "To the home of my childhood" (p. 68) - a precursor of "Home, Sweet Home" - is described as "Sicilian". But it appears that it was most likely derived from a song by German composer J. A. P. Schulz (see Underwood 1977). The reviewer of the Quarterly Musical Magazine was very disappointed with this volume: 
"The numbers of national airs by Mr. M. are amongst the most beautiful and elegant specimens of the combined music and poetry of our time. Mr. Bayley's [sic!], alas! are amongst the least poetical in point of versifications, while there is scarcely an air that is worth preservation, and still more unfortunately, the best are rendered useless by the vapid or ridiculous turn of the words to which they are set".
But perhaps it was not that bad. Three more volumes followed and at least one song became a great hit: "Oh No We Never Mention Her" (Vol. 3, No. 11). This song was also published as sheet music (see Google Books, with a wrong date). Interestingly Bishop and Bayly worked on another project for the same publisher where they also used foreign tunes. This was a series of four booklets with songs about the seasons: 
  • Songs for Spring Mornings/Songs for Summer Days/Songs for Autumn Evenings/Songs for Winter Nights. The Poetry by Thomas H. Bayly; The Symphonies and Accompaniments Composed and the Whole Adapted and Arranged by Henry R. Bishop, Goulding & D'Almaine, London, n. d. [1827-28]
    (not yet digitized; see the catalog of the Gaylord Music Library, Washington: 1, 2, 3, 4
The volume with spring songs includes melodies described as "French", "German", "Portuguese" and even "Burmese". The reviews were mostly favourable (see Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review 9, 1827, pp. 243-4; The Harmonicon, 6, 1828, p. 62 & pp. 201-2). But these booklets are very rare and only a few copies have survived. 
  • Foreign Melodies. The Words by H. S. van Dyk, the Symphonies and Accompaniments by T. A. Rawlings, Goulding, D'Almaine & Co, London, n. d. [1825]
    (not yet digitized; apparently only 2 copies have survived, one of them at the British Library, see Copac)
  • Songs of the Minstrels. The Poetry by H. S. van Dijk. The Music composed by John Barnett, Mayhew & Co., London, n. d. [1828]
    (not yet digitized; see the ad in The Harmonicon 6, September 1828; there are a few extant copies, one in the BL, others in American libraries) 
Harry Stoe van Dijk (1798-1828, see Annual Biography 13, 1829, pp. 173-186), a young poet and writer, was during his short life involved in two projects of this kind, or better, two more attempts to step into Mr. Moore's shoes. The Foreign Melodies with composer Thomas Rawlings were kindly received by the critics (see Harmonicon, 3, 1825, p. 205) and it seems that they have used at least some original melodies: 
"The choice of the airs generally speaking is satisfactory, although a considerable number will be recognised by most persons familiar with foreign musical productions, and not a few have ere been issued in some shape or other from the press of this country" (Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions 6, 1825, pp. 55
For Songs of the Minstrels he worked with young composer John Barnett who wrote all the tunes himself. In fact he is explicitly named as the writer of the music.

The reviewer in The Harmonicon (6, 1828, pp. 135-6) seems to have been somewhat tired of  this kind of song collections. He was not particularly impressed by van Dijk's poetry and also wondered about "imitations of well known national melodies of those various countries". But he clearly saw the problems of this particular genre and why it was still so popular: 
"This [...] leads to the question, why Mr. Barnett, who has talent for invention, did not rather trust to his own means of original creation, than expend his strength in making musical paraphrases; more particular as the public are, and have been, for some time past, fairly surfeited by by real as well as factitious national airs, coming from, or pretending to come from, all quarters of the globe? - But he will, perhaps, deny our postulate, and affirm that there is yet an abundance of appetite left for anything of foreign growth, or foreign in manner [...] and that he who would succeed with the fashionable world, especially as a composer, must either have, or affect to have, a well-bred contempt for all that has not something exotic in its form or substance". 
So it seems there was still enough left of Mr. Moore's cake and these kind of compilations of international airs with English words were apparently a lucrative undertaking. The same year another expert for Scottish and Irish airs tried his hand at foreign tunes: 
  • R. A. Smith, Select Melodies, with appropriate Words, Chiefly Original, Collected and Arranged with Symphonies and Accompaniments for the Pianoforte, Purdie, Edinburgh, 1828
    (available at the Internet Archive
Robert Archibald Smith (1780-1829, see McAulay 2009, pp. 138-152) from Edinburgh had already produced the Scotish Minstrel in 6 Volumes (1821-24, available at the Internet Archive) and the Irish Minstrel in one volume (1825, at the Internet Archive). In these books he had recycled many of the tunes already published by Thomson, Moore and others, often with new poetry, for example by James Hogg, and in easier arrangements. These collections were also cheaper than the original editions. Not without reason Moore's publisher Power accused him of plagiarism and the first edition of the Irish Minstrel had to be taken off the market (see Hughes 2002).
The "chiefly original" Select Melodies - including the "Best Melody, of the Nile" which he had received from "a Gentleman who noted it in the spot when in Egypt" (pp. 36-7) - were published together with new editions of both the Scotish Minstrel and the Irish Minstrel (see the review in The Harmonicon 6, pp. 104-5) and were also reviewed favorably (see dto., pp. 105-6): 
"This is a miscellaneous collection of melodies, for which more than half of the countries of the globe have been laid under contribution: England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Russia, Greece, Hindoostan, &c., &c., have all furnished airs; while Ms. Hemans, Messrs. Hogg, Kennedy, Weir, Riddell, Motherwell, Rogers, and Lawrence Anderson, have supplied verse [...] Many of the airs are well known, a few are already very popular. The poetry written to them is all respectable, and some of the verses are far above mediocrity. These are applied to the notes in a careful, sensible manner [...]".
All the collections listed here seem to have been the major works in this field. But there was much more. Looking through advertisements, reviews in the contemporary press and library catalogs one gets the impressions that foreign national airs - real one or imitations, often enough it was difficult to distinguish - were ubiquitous at that time. Many smaller publications - sheet music and inexpensive booklets of tunes or songs - covered the same field. 

For example circa 1820 Italian guitar virtuoso Charles Michael Sola - who lived and worked in England since 1817 - put together a little collection with the title Six Ballads, Adapted to Favorite National Melodies with an Accompaniment for the Spanish Guitar (see Copac). Here he simply took tunes from Italy, Germany and Ireland as well as those of "Last Rose of Summer" and "Auld Lang Syne" and published them with new lyrics. In 1827 - to name only one more relevant title - one Samuel Poole brought out Le Plaisir Pour Les Jeunes, consisting of twelve National Airs with - I assume - simple arrangements for the piano (title from catalog SUB Hamburg, M B/4530). 

In fact especially beginners were regularly treated with this kind of music, as is shown by an advertisement for some books for pianists and flutists in April 1830 in The Harmonicon (at Google Books). At this point international airs of all kinds - no matter if original or imitations - had become an important part of the musical repertoire. The publishers still saw them as a worthwhile endeavor and the customers were still buying them, either as new popular songs or in instrumental versions. 

  • Gillian Hughes, ‘Irish Melodies and Scottish Minstrel’, in: Studies in Hogg and his World, 13, 2002, pp. 36 – 45 
  • Karen E. McAulay, Our Ancient National Airs. Scottish Song Collecting c. 1760 - 1888, PH. D. thesis, University of Glasgow, 2009 (online available at; a revised and extended edition was published by Ashgate with the title: Our Ancient National Airs: Scottish Song Collecting from the Enlightenment to the Romantic Era, Farnham 2013, see Google Books
  • Byron Edward Underwood, The German Prototype of the Melody of "Home! Sweet Home!", in: Jahrbuch für Volksliedforschung 22, 1977, pp. 36-48 
  • See also my article about collections of foreign "national airs" in Germany:
    "Ausländische Volkslieder" in 19th-Century Germany - Some Important Collections 1829-1853
    Part 1
    & Part 2

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