Sunday, April 7, 2019

Thomas Hamly Butler (1755-1823) - National Airs and "Exotic" Rondos


I am interested in what I call "exotic" tunes and songs that were published in Europe from the 16th to the 19th century (see here in my blog & my bibliography). By this I mean music from outside of Europe or from the European periphery that was notated by Western travelers and then made available in print to European readers. For a long time these kind of tunes could be found nearly exclusively in travel books or academic treatises. But since the late 18th century supposedly authentic non-European tunes began to appear in the popular music repertoire. 

I recently came across one interesting example from the early 19th century, an "Egyptian air" arranged as a rondo by one Thomas Hamly Butler. Here is one of the many editions:
  • An Egyptian Air. Arranged as a Rondo, or Easy Lesson for the Piano Forte, by T. H. Butler, Author of Lewie Gordon, Goulding & Co., London, n.d. [1815?], at Google Books [= BL
This piece seems to have been very popular and it remained available in print for nearly the whole century (see Copac). We can see that the author only claimed to have arranged it. This suggests that he wanted the buyers to believe that it was an original "Egyptian" tune. The problem with a publication of this kind - and the many similar pieces - is that it is difficult or even impossible to find out if it was really an "authentic" melody. But at that time it didn't matter much. The buyers and critics usually had no way of knowing. One may assume that many of them regarded it as an original "Egyptian" melody. Therefore Butler's rondo served as a representation of a foreign musical culture. 

This seemed like an interesting problem to me. First I wanted to know more about the arranger of this rondo. Who was Thomas Hamly Butler? And then I will try to place his piece in a wider historical context. What other musical publications of this kind were available at that time? Who played these pieces? How do these works fit into the history of the so-called "national airs"? A great number of "Scottish" and "Irish" tunes and songs had already been published at that time. "National" melodies from other European countries also appeared. Therefore non-European tunes - no matter if they were "authentic" or not - were of course a reasonable addition to the popular repertoire. 


Thomas Hamly Butler (1755-1823) was a pianist, composer, arranger and music teacher, first in London and then in Edinburgh. A search in Copac provides several hundred results, nearly exclusively works for the piano. So it seems he must have been quite busy during his lifetime. But I must admit that I have rarely heard his name before. Not much has been written about him. There are only a few short articles in some encyclopedias (Fiske in New Grove 8, 1980, p. 518; Squire in DNB 8, 1886, at wikisource; Brown, Biographical Dictionary, 1886, pp. 132-3; Moore, Complete Encyclopedia, 1854, p. 168) and a paragraph or two in some books (see f. ex. Fiske, Theatre Music, 1973, pp. 425-6, Nelson, Notion, 2002, p. 261). Some information about his early years can be found in a letter by Butler himself that was published in The Bee, Or Literary Weekly Intelligencer (Vol. 10, No. 83, 19.7.1792, p. 65). 

He was born in London but as a young man he went to Italy for three years to study music with composer Niccolò Piccinni (1728-1800). After his return to London he was hired to play the piano at Covent Garden. He also tried his hand at writing music for stage shows, first for Calypso, a New Masque (1779; see The Morning Chronicle No. 3070, 23.3.1779, BBCN) and then for The Widow of Delphi (1780, see Google Books [=BL]), both with words by popular dramatist Richard Cumberland.

But these two shows weren't particularly successful and his career in London was soon to end. In the early 80s Mr. Butler moved to Edinburgh where he spent the rest of his life as a teacher of music and writer of piano pieces mostly for amateurs and beginners. He taught the young ladies of the nobility and the better-off families to play this instrument. It is quite interesting to read his ads in local newspapers like the Caledonian Mercury [= CM]. For example on November 22nd, 1804 (CM No. 12981, BNCN) he "intimates, That he has commenced Teaching the Piano-Forte, as usual, for the winter Season". On May 5th, 1806 (CM No. 13157, BNCN) it was announced that "in the middle of May, Mr. Butler intends opening a Class, at his house, for Young Ladies, to improve themselves in this and some other very necessary and useful branches of musical knowledge". That year he opened what he called a Musical Academy: 
"Mr. Butler begs leave to acquaint his Friends and the Public, That [...] on Monday se'enright he will open his Academy (as formerly advertised), and, with the assistance of the Miss Butlers, commence his plan of teaching Beginners the Piano Forte, For Two Guineas the Quarter. The Young Ladies will be more thoroughly grounded in the Rudiments of Music at the Academy than they can be in any other way, and they will be taught to Finger the Piano Forte well, and to execute what they play neatly, and as the Writing of Music, in a certain way, is a real help to the better understanding it, writing it for this purpose will also be taught at the Academy; - in short, a real foundation is Mr. Butler's object, and he flatters himself, that his long experience and tried ability as a teacher of Music, qualify him in a very particular manner for this undertaking [...] Mr. B. continues his Private Teaching, at Two Guineas Twelve Lessons as usual" (CM No. 13228, 18.10.1806, BNCN). 
We can see that - just like all other teachers of course - he claimed to have a particularly good and effective method and he also pointed out his "his well known experience, as a Teacher of Music" (CM, No. 13000, 5.1.1805, BNCN). At this time he was already more than twenty years in this business. Among his educational publications were the Musical Games (1804, see Kassler, p. 535; see catalog BL). In several ads he described them as "an entertaining way of passing A Winter Evening, And a pleasant and easy method of assisting Young Performers on the Piano-forte, To attain and retain some very useful Musical Knowledge" (CM No. 129891, 22.11.1804, BNCN), as " a pleasant and amusing, instead of the common dry and discouraging way, of learning the Keys of Music, both Major and Minor, with their Sharps, Flats and Scales" that "will tend more to increase and establish this most useful and necessary branch of musical knowledge in their memories than any other method whatever" (CM, No. 13000, 5.1.1805, BNCN) or as "entertaining and instructive musical Games, which no young Lady should be without who wish to know correctly by heart and play with ease and judgment upon the Piano Forte" (CM No. 13157, 5.5.1806, BNCN). 

Exactly for these "young Ladies"- the young Gentlemen of course did not make music, they had other things to do - he wrote his piano pieces, mostly rondos as well as some sonatas. In this respect he showed an astonishing productivity. Many of these pieces were based on Scottish tunes and other national airs. Thankfully a considerable number of his works - 70 at the moment - have been digitized by Google for the British Library and are now available online (see BL & Google Books). Some more can be found on several other sites (see IMSLP; Internet Archive). 


The first was "Lewie Gordon", published in 1782 after he had moved to Edinburgh. At least the earliest mention in a newspaper ad that I know of is from that year (CM, No. 9858, 10.4.1782, BNA): The Favourite Scots Air of Lewie Gordon, made into a Rondeau. It was later claimed that Mr. Butler had heard the song from "the maid of the house" and then chose it as the first tune to turn into a rondo (Moore, Complete Encyclopedia, p. 168). This piece was clearly a great success and it would be regularly printed again during the following decades by nearly all major publishers (see Copac), for example by Hamilton (c. 1800, at Google Books), Dale (c. 1800, at Google Books), Walker (c. 1802, at Google Books), Preston & Son (c. 1811, at Google Books) and Goulding & Co. (n.d., in Jenkyns 07, at the Internet Archive). Butler also once announced "Lewie Gordon, very much improved [...] A very Pleasing Sonata for the Piano-Forte, in which is introduced the admired Rondo of Lewie Gordon, with Alterations and Additions" (CM No. 13352, 3.8.1807, BNCN). In ads and on sheet music covers he was often referred to as the "Author of Lewie Gordon" (see f. ex. CM No. 11509, 8.6.1795, BNA). 

Apparently Mr. Butler regarded himself as an authority for Scottish songs. He also attempted an anthology A Select Collection of Original Scotish Airs Arranged for One and Two Voices, with Introductory & Concluding Symphonies and Accompanyments for the Flute, Violin & Piano Forte [...] With an Additional Selection of Words from the Most Admired Scotch and English Poets (Muir and Wood, Edinburgh, 1800, see cat. BL). This publication looked "extremely similar" (Nelson 2003, p. 261) to George Thomson's ambitious Select Collection that was published since 1793 (see f. ex. the First Set, reprint Dublin, c. 1793, at the Internet Archive). He even copied the term "Scotish" instead of "Scottish" from Thomson's title. 

Of course the difference was that Mr. Butler wrote the arrangements himself while Thomson had managed to hire star composers like Pleyel. But nonetheless he claimed in his ads (f. ex. CM No. 12289, 28.6.1800, BNCN) that this "Elegant Folio Volume" with mostly the same songs was "infinitely preferable to any collection of the kind that hitherto has appeared". I really wonder what Mr. Thomson - who also lived in Edinburgh - thought about Butler's anthology. But by all accounts it was clearly not a big success. No further volumes appeared and later nothing more was heard about it. 

Much more successful were his many piano arrangements of - mostly - Scottish tunes: "Mr. Butler, as a rondo writer, has long been a favourite with the public" (Universal Magazine 10, 1808, p. 460). It seems that he wrote them on assembly line. I haven't counted these publications but it must have been several a year. Here I will list only some examples: 
  • Corn Riggs. A Favorite Scots air, Made a Rondo for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte, Corri & Company, Edinburgh, c.1795, at Google Books [= BL]
  • The Birks of Invermay. A New Rondo for the Piano forte or Harpsichord, Stewart & Co., Edinburgh, c.1796, at Google Books [= BL]
  • I'll gang nae mair to yon Town. A New Rondo for the Piano Forte, Stewart & Co., Edinburgh, c.1800, at Google Books [= BL]
  • The Lass of Paties Mill. A Favorite Rondo for the Piano Forte, Gow & Shepherd, Edinburgh, 1799 (see CM No., 3.8.1799, BNA), at Google Books [= BL]
  • A New and Pleasing Sonata for the Piano Forte. The Beautiful Scots Airs of Tweed Side, the Broom of Cowden knows, and Benny Jean of Aberdeen, are introduced in this Sonata, Brysson, London, c.1802, at Google Books [= BL]
  • The Flowers of Edinburgh. Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano Forte, Clementi, Banger, Hyde, Collard & Davis, London, 1804 (see The Morning Chronicle No. 11106, 22.12.1804), at BL 
  • The Earl of Moira's Strathspey, with entirely New and Brilliant Variations for the Piano Forte, Goulding & Co., London, 1806 (see CM No. 13157, 5.5.1806, BNCN), at Google Books [= BL]
  • The Ewe wi' the Crooked Horn. A Favorite Scots Air, Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano Forte, Goulding, Phipps, D'Almaine & Co., London, c.1810, at Google Books [= BL]
  • Could Kail in Aberdeen. A Favorite Scots Air, Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano Forte, Goulding, Phipps, D'Almaine & Co., London, c.1810, at Google Books [= BL]
  • The Bush Aboon Traquair, A Favorite Scots Air, Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano Forte, Goulding, Phipps, D'Almaine & Co., London, c.1810, at Google Books [= BL]
  • Durandarte & Belerna. A Favorite Scotch Air, Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano Forte, Wheatstone, London, c.1810, at Google Books [= BL]
Sometimes he compiled small anthologies with several pieces bound together: 
  • Eight Rondos for the Piano Forte, with or without the Additional Keys. Composed from the following favorite English and Scotch Airs, Printed for the Author, Edinburgh, 1806, at Google Books [= BL]
Among the Scottish tunes included here were "The Bush Aboon Traquair", "My Ain Kind Dearie" and "Roys Wife of Aldivalloch". In this case he noted in the advert for whom this work was intended:
"These Rondos are all of them of an agreeable length to play in company and are composed to shew the taste and execution of the performers without tiring the hearers; and, from very long experience Mr. Butler can affirm [...] that these are the best, as well as the most inviting sort of Lessons that can be given to young performers, to improve their taste, and increase their execution upon the Piano Forte" (CM No. 13156, 2.1.1806, BNCN). 
Interestingly the reviews of Mr. Butler's publications in the contemporary press were usually quite positive. In the Monthly Magazine (18, 1804, p. 250) it was noted that they had "frequently awarded our praise" to his "productions". For example the reviewer of Dainty Davie. A Favorite Air Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano Forte (Goulding & Co., London, 1802, at Google Books) was mostly impressed by this work: 
"Mr. Butler has arranged this air with a considerable degree of taste. The introductory movement, in three quavers, andante expressivo, is pleasingly conceived, both in the bass and general disposition of the melody; and the modulation, though in some places rather abrupt, is bold in its effect, and displays a respectable degree of science" (Monthly Magazine 13, 1802, p. 155). 
A 4th Sonata for the Piano-Forte, in which are introduced the favourite Scotch Airs "Lochaber" and "Duncan Gray" (1803, see Copac) was also praised and recommended: 
"Mr. Butler's excellent first movement to this sonata, together with the taste with which he has ornamented and augmented the subject matter of the following movement, will render the composition a pleasing acquisition with piano-forte performers. The plan of introducing old and favourite airs in instrumental compositions, is a very eligible one; and when adopted with a success equal to the present, forms a strong recommendation with the generality of hearers" (Monthly Magazine 14, 1802, p. 170
The review of another work, A Slow Movement, and the Favourite Scots air of O! Bonnie Lassie, Arranged as a Rondo, with or without Additional Keys (Goulding & Co., see cat. BL) was even better: 
"The 'slow movement' to this production, which we suppose to be original, does great credit to Mr. Butler's taste and imagination. It is smooth, flowing, and affecting, and sweetly introduces the charming Scots' air, by which it is succeeded. As a rondo, this air, under Mr. Butler's excellent management, produces additional effect, and forms one of the most pleasing exercises for the piano-forte that we have noticed in a considerable time" (Monthly Magazine 15, 1803, p. 170). 
Of course Butler was not the only one to use Scottish tunes for his popular piano pieces. That was quite common at that time (see f. ex. Nelson 2003, pp. 255-66) and sonatas and rondos of this kind had become a lucrative part of the music business. Many other composers and arrangers worked in this field. A look at contemporary newspaper adverts may suffice. For example publisher James Hamilton from Edinburgh announced in an ad in the Caledonian Mercury in 1804 on November 24th (No. 12982, BNCN) not only three new pieces by Mr. Butler ("De'il tak' the War", "O'er the Water to Charlie" and "Tweedside") but also one by Domenico Corri ("O'er the muir among the Heather") and five by John Ross from Aberdeen, another popular composer from that time who adapted "Scotch Airs" in his sonatas and rondos. 

But it seems that Butler was particularly busy in this respect. I haven't counted his relevant works published between 1782 and 1823 but a complete bibliography could be a challenging task. Besides that there is also another question. There is good reason to assume that he had played - with his numerous piano pieces - a not unimportant part in popularizing all these tunes all over England, "among a class who might otherwise have remained in ignorance of their numberless beauties" (Brown, Biographical Dictionary, p. 132). Many young pianists have learned and played them and that has surely also "prolonged the longevity of their popularity amongst amateur performers" (Nelson 2003, p. 266) and those who had to listen to them. 

It is also not unreasonable to suspect that Mr. Butler's - and of course his like-minded colleague's - works played a bigger role in disseminating the Scottish melodies they used than the big ambitious anthologies like George Thomson's Select Collection. These were expensive publications that not everybody could afford. But a rondo by Butler was much cheaper, much easier to get and - I assume - easier to play for the typical amateur pianist. 

I noticed that most of the experts on Scottish songs and music apparently didn't care much for Butler. I found him rarely mentioned in the relevant literature and as far as I know nobody ever wrote more than a few lines about him. Today his works are all forgotten and his reputation isn't the best. Fiske in his somewhat lackluster article in the New Grove (Vol. 8, 1980, p. 518) only mentioned in passing "a profusion of unambitious piano rondos and sonatas on 'Scotch' themes". Claire Nelson (2003, p. 261) noted that "in general his works seem to have lacked originality". Only recently another modern expert referred to "Butler's usual rubbish" (D. McGuinness on Twitter, 14.2.2019). 

This may all be correct and I don't want to doubt it. But, as far as I know, Mr. Butler never claimed to be another Pleyel or Beethoven. He specialized in music for amateurs and beginners, "those juvenile practitioners, who wish to gratify the ear, while they are improving the finger" (Monthly Magazine 28, 1809, p. 418) and many of them were surely not among the musically most gifted. He wrote "agreeable trifles for the piano-forte" (Monthly Magazine 28, 1809, p. 316) and that was his niche on the music market. 

It seems that Butler did quite well both as a teacher and a composer. He had a successful business for four decades. By all accounts both the critics and the buyers were satisfied with what he produced. As mentioned above the reviews of his works were usually very good and his "unambitious" rondos probably sold quite well. Otherwise he wouldn't have written so many. This is a field that perhaps needs a little bit more research. It is not really important if what Mr. Butler wrote and published was "rubbish" or not. More relevant is the quantitative data. There must have been a reason for his apparent success and his numerous works surely had a certain importance on the popularization and dissemination of the so-called national airs, Scottish and others. They were played and they were listened to, not only in Scotland but all over England. But this is a question that should be left for the musicologists. 


Mr. Butler of course did not only arrange Scottish tunes. He also attempted variations and rondos on patriotic standards like "God Save The King" and "Rule Britannia" (see f. ex. CM, No. 11153, 16.2.1793, BNA; No. 13156, 1.2.1806, BNCN), composed military pieces like The Royal Montrose Volunteers. A New March (see CM No. 11509, 8.6.1795, BNA), The Landing of the Brave 42nd in Egypt. A Military Rondo for the Piano Forte (1802; see Kassler, p. 492; Copac) or The Marching and Embarkation of the Brave 42nd Regiment, a Grand Military Divertimento for the Piano Forte (see CM No. 14134, 25.7.1812) and turned some contemporary popular tunes into rondos. I will only mention Sanderson's "Adown, adown, adown in the Valley" (see Universal Magazine 10, 1808, p. 460) and Nathaniel Gow's "Long Life to Step Mothers" (c. 1810, at Google Books). The latter was published by Gow himself who apparently appreciated that a popular rondo writer revived his tune. 

But he also used other national airs, for example some Irish tunes. The Favorite Irish Air of Aileen Aroon with Variations for the Piano Forte or Harp was published in 1807 (at NLI, see CM No. 13352, 3.8.1807, BNCN) and Gramachree Molly, A New Rondo for the Piano Forte or Harp (c. 1810, at Google Books) some years later. Not at least Mr. Butler also tried his hand at foreign melodies: 
  • A Slow Movement and a Favorite Russian Arranged as a Rondo, for the Piano Forte, with or without the Additional Keys [No. 12], Goulding & Co., London, 1802, at Google Books [= BL])
  • A Slow Movement and a favorite Second Russian Air Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano Forte [No. ?], Goulding, Phipps & D'Almaine, London, c. 1802, at Google Books [= BL]
  • A New Slow Movement, & the Favorite Russian Air of the Drunken Sailor, Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano Forte [No. ?], Goulding, Phipps & D'Almaine, London, c.1803, at Google Books [= BL]
  • A Slow Movement and A Favorite Danish Air, Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano-Forte. With or Without the Additional Keys [No. 7], Goulding & Co., London, c.1802, at Google Books [= BL]
He also wrote Two Sonatas for the Piano-Forte, in which are introduced favourite Danish Airs as the Subjects of the Rondos. It seems that no copy has survived but there was a review (Monthly Magazine 13, 1802, p. 496): 
"We can have the pleasure to speak of these sonatas in highly commendatory terms. Their style, though familiar, is gay and inspired; and the Danish airs are sweet and full of national character. Mr. Butler, in the digressive matter of the rondos, has been particularly happy in adhering to the cast of his subjects, to which he always returns with an adress which indicates a well-cultivated taste, and maturity of judgment." 
Russian tunes were not uncommon at that time in British music market. In fact it seems that that there was even a kind of fashion for "Russian Airs" (see Copac). But as far as I know Mr. Butler may have been the first one to introduce melodies said to be from Denmark. 

This series of "Slow Movements, with favourite select Airs, arranged as Rondos" (Morning Post No. 10647, 23.11.1802, BNA; see Copac) was published since 1801 or 1802. It is particularly interesting because of its international approach. Of course he used predominantly Scots airs but there were also some foreign tunes: besides those from Russia and Denmark listed above he offered a "Neapolitan air" and a "Spanish Quick Step" as well as two pieces based on melodies from India and Persia. At least he claimed so:
  • A Slow Movement and a favorite Indian Air Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano Forte [No. 15], Goulding, Phipps & D'Almaine, London, c.1802, at the Internet Archive 
  • A New Slow Movement and a Beautiful Persian Air Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano Forte [No. 23], Goulding, Phipps & D'Almaine, London, 1802, at Google Books [= BL] (see the review in: Monthly Magazine 14, 1802, p. 441
This was the time when foreign national airs began to appear in the popular repertoire. This included a small amount of supposedly non-European tunes. I don't mean the pseudo-exotic music - from Lully to Mozart, from a Ballet des Indiens performed at the French court in the early 17th century (see Pisani, Chronological Listing, 2006) to an Egyptian Love Song by Welsh bard Edward Jones, published in one of his earliest collections, The Musical Bouquet; or Popular Songs, and Ballads (1799, p. 4) - that was so popular in Western Europe (see also Locke 2011 & 2015 about "exoticism"). Now real "national music" from outside of Europe - Westernized and made usable for European instrumentalists and singers - became available on sheet music and in popular anthologies. Of course there were only few publications and what was published was more often than not difficult to distinguish from the traditional "exoticism". But it was a visible development. 

We may at first look to Germany. Here the Abbé Vogler was a kind of innovator. His Polymelos ou Caractères de Musique de differentes Nations (1791, at BLB Karlsruhe) only included European tunes but in a later anthology with easy arrangements for pianists, the Pieces de Clavecin faciles (1798, at the Internet Archive), he also offered several tunes from outside of Europe: some that he claimed to have collected in North Africa as well as a Chinese melody he had learned while in London some years earlier. He even performed these tunes in his concerts all over Europe (see also here in my blog). 

In the meantime German musician Karl Kambra had published in London Two Original Chinese Songs. Moo-Lee-Chwa & Higho Highau, for the Piano Forte or Harpsichord (1795, at Harvard UL, see also the review in Monthly Magazine 4, 1796, pp. 223-4). But in England tunes from India played a bigger role. William Hamilton Bird's Oriental Miscellany, an anthology of Indian melodies arranged for piano that was printed in Calcutta in 1789 (at the Internet Archive), had inspired a fashion for so-called "Hindustannie Airs" (see f. ex. Farrell, pp. 31-44; Woodfield, pp. 292-95; see also here in my blog, ch. 2) and since the late 1790s several collections with new arrangements of these tunes appeared in London. 

Composer E. S. Biggs published two volumes of Twelve Hindoo Airs with English words by poet Amelia Opie (c. 1800, at the Internet Archive). Thomas Williamson offered Twelve Original Hindostanee Airs (c.1800, see Copac). In 1802 M. P. King added Three Indian Rondos for the Piano-forte. The Subjects Taken from Some of the Most Favorite Airs of Hindostan (see Copac; see Monthly Magazine 13, 1802, p. 155) to the available repertoire. We can see that Mr. Butler was also among the first to join this new musical fashion. 

But his "Persian" rondo was more unusual. In fact until that time only two tunes supposedly from Persia had been published in Europe. The first one was the "petit Air Persan" in Jean Chardin's Voyage de Perse (1711, Vol. 2, pl. 26) that later also appeared in Rousseau's Dictionnaire de Musique (here in the Engl. ed., 1779, p. 265). The other one - of unkown and surely dubious origin - can be found in Domenico Corri's Select Collection of the Most Admired Songs (c.1782/3, Vol. 3, p. 44). 

Of course it is not clear if the tune used by Butler really was genuine. On the title page he only claimed to have arranged it. Perhaps he had received the melody from an unknown informant, someone who was in Persia and then had brought it to England. This was not unusual at that time. If it was in fact an original melody it would have been a notable achievement, no matter how much edited or even mutilated it may have been. But of course it is also possible that he had written it himself and then passed it off as a foreign tune. 

After all these Indian airs one from Persia surely had a real novelty value. At least the reviewer in the Monthly Magazine (14, 1803, p. 441) was impressed by this "beautiful" air and Mr. Butler's arrangement. After these two publications Mr. Butler returned to the usual repertoire. There were no more "exotic" tunes for a while until the Egyptian Rondo. But in the meantime some other composers and editors offered more music of this kind to a - hopefully - curious musical public. 

Feliks Yaniewicz (1762-1848, see Wikipedia), a Polish composer and musician who lived in Liverpool and later in Edinburgh, also wrote rondos based on Scots airs and European tunes (see Copac). The Indian War Hoop, A Rondo for the Piano Forte (1804, at Google Books) was his contribution to the "exotic" repertoire. He even performed this piece in concerts (see CM No. 12876, 19.3.1804, BNCN). Henry Dixon Tylee from Bath arranged Eight Indian Airs Selected by A Lady (c. 1805, at Google Books). This was published by Goulding in London who was also responsible for King's Indian Airs, the second volume of Williamson's Hindostanee Airs and of course for Butler's series of Slow Movements. It seems this publisher was particularly interested in foreign national airs. We will meet him more often in the next decade. 

Then there were the earliest anthologies of international national airs. Welsh bard Edward Jones published his Lyric Airs with "Greek, Albanian, Walachian, Turkish, Arabian, Persian, Chinese, and Moorish National Songs and Melodies" in 1805 (at the Internet Archive). He had received the "Persian Air" included here from an informant who had heard it in East India (p. 25). More collections of this kind would follow (see here in my blog). William Crotch's, Specimens of Various Styles of Music (1808) was a systematic presentation of national airs from Britain and from all over the world with a generous number of non-European tunes (pp. 145-65, at the Internet Archive). These were no academic treatises even though the editors included notes and an introduction. Crotch's Specimens even grew out of lectures in Oxford and London. But they were intended for practical use. All tunes were arranged for piano and they could be played by curious musicians. 

Otherwise not much more appeared on commercial sheet music at that time. There were some "Turkish" pieces, for example one by Joseph Woelfl (1773-1812, see Wikipedia), an Austrian composer who had relocated to London in 1805. There he also began to write rondos for the British market (see Copac). But his Turkish March and Rondo (1809, see Copac; see Morning Chronicle No. 12373, 6.1.1809, BNCN) may have to do more with the traditional alla Turca style than with original Turkish music. Nonetheless it surely fit well with the new interest in "exotic" national airs. 

The same can be said about a Persian Dance, a great hit in 1810 that was played on dances of the high society (see Cooper, Examples). Welsh bard John Parry, a composer and multi-instrumentalist who at that time had already made a name for himself himself as "the composer of several ballads, and agreeable exercises for young piano-forte practitioners" (Monthly Magazine 29, 1810, p. 483) published it as The Persian Dance. A Favorite Air Composed and Arranged as a Familiar Rondo for the Piano Forte (Bland & Weller, London, 1810; see cat. BL; Copac). There were also many other editions both as sheet music, for example one by Joseph Dale (at Google Books), and in dance anthologies like Nathaniel Gow's Favorite Dances of 1812 (p. 2). 

It is unlikely that this dance is really based on an original Persian tune. At least one newspaper reported that it was "composed in compliment to his Excellency Mirza Abul Hassan" (quoted by Cooper, Examples), the Persian ambassador who was in London at that time. So it seems it was a new tune, probably written by Parry himself to whom it was credited in some contemporary newspaper reports. But three decades later this "Persian Dance" was included in Parry's own anthology Two Thousand Melodies, arranged for All Instruments forming an Encyclopedia of Melody (D'Almaine & Co., London, 1841, p. 155) and there he didn't claim authorship. In fact we really don't know who wrote this tune and where it was from. But at least Parry added a touch of authenticity. In his arrangement he "introduced an imitation of a small pipe used by the shepherds in Persia, somewhat resembling the English flageolet, and described to Mr. Parry by his Excellency the Persian Ambassador" (Monthly Magazine 29, 1810, p. 483). 


Here I can return to Butler's Egyptian Rondo, that little piece of music that served as the initial inspiration for this work. We can see that it fit well into this music historical context. And again - as with the other "exotic" rondos - we don't know if it was genuine. Of course it is possible that he had received the melody from an anonymous informant, perhaps someone who had heard and noted it in Egypt. But we have no way of knowing. 

At that time Egypt was no terra incognita, at least not since Bonaparte's invasion 1798, the Battle of Abukir and the landing of British troops. Since 1799 a few songs and tunes referring to Egypt had appeared. Edward Jones included an "Egyptian Love Song" in one of his earliest collections, The Musical Bouquet; or Popular Songs, and Ballads (1799, p. 4). Broderip & Wilkinson offered an Egyptian March by the Lord Viscount Galway (Times No. 5280, 12.4.1801; Morning Chronicle No. 10143, 12.4.1801). Another Egyptian March, for a Military Band, also adapted for the Piano Forte was published by Cahusac in London (see Copac). Butler himself wrote The Landing of the Brave 42nd in Egypt. A Military Rondo for the Piano Forte (1802; see Kassler, p. 492; Copac). 

But original tunes from Egypt had not yet been made available in print in Western Europe. Neither Jones nor Crotch were able to include one in their respective anthologies. Only in 1809 French musicologist Villoteau - one of the scholars who had accompanied Bonaparte on his expedition - offered a generous amount of musical examples in his De l'État Actuel de l'Art Musical en Égypte, one volume of the famous Description de l'Égypte (pp. 607-846, available at the Internet Archive). But I couldn't find Butler's tune in this book. It is of course not even known if he was familiar with this work. 

The dating of Butler's Egyptian Rondo is also a little bit difficult. It was not entered at Stationer's Hall and I know of no contemporary reviews that would help to determine when this piece was first published. Besides that I only found one advert, strangely not in a London newspaper but in a provincial publication. With an ad in the Staffordshire Advertiser on August 24th (at BNA) publisher Goulding, D'Almaine, Potter & Co. announced a "Second Egyptian Air" by Butler. I have no idea what the first one was but this seems like a reasonable publication date for the well-known Egyptian Rondo that I am discussing here. 

Then we can have a look at the four editions of this piece that are at the moment - thanks to the British Library - available online at Google Books. The tentative dates from the catalog are not really reliable and look more like guesswork. Therefore I have added, with the help of Music Publishing on the British Isles by Humphries & Smith (1970), the time span when the respective publisher had his business at the address given on their edition: 
  • An Egyptian Air. Arranged as a Rondo, or Easy Lesson for the Piano Forte, Goulding & Co., London, n.d. [betw. 1811 & 1816], at Google Books [= BL] 
  • An Egyptian Air. Arranged as a Rondo, or Easy Lesson for the Piano Forte, J. Lawson, London, n.d. [after 1814], at Google Books [= BL] 
  • Butler's Egyptian Rondo, For the Piano-Forte, Preston, London, n.d. [betw. 1810 & 1822], at Google Books [= BL] 
  • An Egyptian Air. Arranged as a Easy Lesson for the Piano Forte, Birchall & Co., London, n.d. [betw. 1824 & 1829], at Google Books [= BL] 
These four were all published after 1810 and the one published by Goulding seems to have been the earliest. That fits well with the advert quoted above. Nearly all other editions listed in British library catalogs (see Copac) also appear to be from after 1810/11. There is only one exception: A Favorite Little Egyptian Air, made an Easy Rondo for the Piano Forte and humbly dedicated to the Right Honorable Lady Isabella Boyle was published by McFadyen in Glasgow and is dated as from "ca. 1800" (see cat. UofGlasgow). This is perhaps a little too early. The publication dates in library catalogs are often unreliable. Publisher McFadyen was active until 1826 (Humphries & Smith, p. 222 ). 

There were also several American editions, for example by Blake in Philadelphia (c.1816, at LoC), Graupner in Boston (c.1810, at LoC), Willig in Philadelphia (c.1810, at LoC) and Willson in New York (c.1812, at Levy Sheet Music). The tentative dates in the catalogs indicate that the Egyptian Rondo was not available there before 1810. All in all it seems reasonable to assume that Butler's rondo first appeared in Britain in 1810 or 1811. If it really had been published much earlier it clearly wasn't successful at first and only became popular after 1810. I even tend to think that the great success of John Parry's Persian Dance perhaps inspired Butler and his publisher to offer something equally "exotic" and therefore this Egyptian Rondo was either composed and published at that time or - if already available earlier - revived and printed anew. 

An "Egyptian" air was as uncommon and rare as a "Persian" dance. And it didn't matter if it really was an original tune or not. The buyers had no way of knowing that. Butler's rondo was clearly a great success. This can be seen from the surprising number of new editions by other publishers. But some other composers also felt inspired to try something similar. John Parry - since his Persian Dance an expert for "exotic" rondos - answered with an "Arabian" air and on the title page he even referred to Butler's piece. This was also published by Goulding: 
  • John Parry, Arabian Rondo, for the Piano Forte. Intended as a Companion to Butler's Egyptian Rondo. Composed and respectfully inscribed to Miss Young, Goulding, D'Almaine, Potter & Co., London, n. d. [betw. 1811 & 1816], at Google Books [= BL]; at Google Books [= BSB
This piece must have also been quite successful. Mr. Parry then produced a whole series of "international" rondos (see Copac). I will only cite one here because the others are listed on the title page: 
  • John Parry, The Hibernian Rondo, For The Piano Forte, Composed to Correspond With The Arabian, Russian, Hanoverian, Swiss, Prussian, Venetian, Spanish, Milanese, Turkish & Cambrian Rondos, No. 11, Goulding D'Almaine, Potter & Co, London, n.d. [betw. 1811 & 1816], at Google Books [= BL] 
Of course most of these rondos' titles refer to European countries and Hanover wasn't really an "exotic" foreign place. But the world outside of Europe was at least additionally represented by the Turkish Rondo of which apparently no copy has survived. Interestingly Parry occasionally identified the origin of the tune he used. In case of the Hanoverian Rondo he informed the buyers that the "subject [was] taken from a German Air" (see BL) and the "subject" of the Hibernian Rondo was borrowed "from a Song in 'High Notions' called Dennis McPhane". But of course it is not clear if the Turkish and Arabian rondos are also based on original tunes. At around the same time Parry wrote an Indian Rondo, Composed in a Familiar Style, for the Piano Forte (Phipps, London, c.1815, see Copac) that was not part of this series

Shortly later one J. P. Wrede jumped on this bandwagon and produced not only an Original Egyptian Rondo but also "celebrated" Indian and Chinese Rondos (1816/17; see Kassler, p. 683 & p. 688; see Copac). This was a pseudonym of John Charles White, a young composer from a music publishing family in Bath, who otherwise was busy writing country dances on assembly-line (see Cooper, White v. Gerock). Then there was Matthias Holst (1767-1845; see Scott, M. H.; see IMSLP), a German musician from Riga who lived in England. He composed piano pieces, many of them on "foreign" subjects (see Copac) and later also arranged Scottish airs. Holst offered Tartarian, Circassian and American rondos and also tried his hand at a Chinese Rondo (c.1817, at Google Books; see YouTube). 

Butler himself also tried to capitalize on his great success and published a New Egyptian Rondo, Composed and Arranged for the Piano Forte or Harp in 1819. A reviewer called it a "pleasing trifle" and "a proper lesson for young pupils" (see Repository of Arts 7, 1819, p. 44). But this new attempt apparently wasn't successful. As far as I know no copy has survived. There was even a parody "on Butler's celebrated Egyptian Air (to which it is intended as a companion)" by one O. H. Normino (Monro & May, London, c. 1825, see Copac). 

But - as mentioned - Butler's original Rondo survived them all. It must have been quite popular among piano players and was regularly reprinted during the 1820s. But at least some critics became more critical. A writer for the Athenaeum (No. 77, 15.04.1829, p. 232) ridiculed it as "the most popular, and, at the same time, most insignificant piece perhaps ever published". That was not very kind. But the pianists kept on playing this piece and the publishers kept it available. There were even new editions several decades later in 1872 and 1880 (see Copac), many years after Butler's death when all his other works were long forgotten. 


I have started with Butler's Egyptian Rondo and now I have ended my text with this piece. In between I have tried to find out a little bit more about Mr. Butler who it seems was a quite interesting character even though his numerous works are now completely forgotten and his reputation isn't really that good today. But no matter what we now think of his abilities as a composer and arranger: during his lifetime his musical publications were apparently appreciated both by the buyers - probably mostly amateur pianists - and the music critics. 

Butler was among the first piano composers who not only arranged numerous "Scottish" tunes for amateur pianists but also introduced foreign national airs to the commercial music market. Especially his series of "Slow Movements" with rondos in 1802 offered a new international approach: in addition to many melodies regarded as "Scottish" he also used tunes described as Danish, Russian, Persian and Indian. As far as I can see this was a new concept. I wonder if it was his own idea or his publisher's. The earliest comprehensive anthologies of international national airs - by Edward Jones and William Crotch - would only appear in 1805 respectively 1808. And in some way Butler's series also prepared the ground for later international collections like Thomas Moore's Popular National Airs (1818 etc). 

Of course other piano composers followed Butler's example and wrote similar pieces based on tunes of supposedly exotic origin: until circa 1820 more "Indian", "Chinese", "Persian" and "Arabian" rondos were made available. His own Egyptian Rondo was clearly the most successful piece of this kind and inspired some more arrangers and composers, especially John Parry who even started his own series of "exotic" rondos. This was essentially a reorientation of the traditional musical exoticism in the context of the new interest for "national" music. 

Of course it is not clear if any of the tunes used here were really genuine. I haven't yet found printed precursors. It can not be ruled out that Butler or Parry - or any of the other composers mentioned - have received formerly unpublished melodies from private collectors. But for me this looks more like musical masquerading. That was quite common at that time. To name only one famous example: some years later composer Henry Rowley Bishop claimed that the melody for the song that would later become "Home, Sweet Home" was "Sicilian". But in fact he had borrowed parts of an older German tune (see Underwood 1977). As already noted: for the buyers it surely didn't matter much. They had no way of distinguishing original tunes from imitations. These "Egyptian", "Persian" or "Arabian" rondos were a welcome supplement to the numerous "Scottish" piano pieces and they offered a simulated look at "exotic" musical cultures. 

  • BBCN = 17th & 18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers (Gale - via 
  • BNA = The British Newspaper Archive 
  • BNCN = 19th Century British Library Newspapers (Gale - via 
  • James Duff Brown, Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. With a Bibliography of English Writings on Music, Gardner, London, 1886, at the Internet Archive 
  • Thomas Hamly Butler, Letter to the Editor, in: The Bee, Or Literary Weekly Intelligencer 10, No. 83, 19.7.1792, p. 65, at Google Books 
  • Paul Cooper, White v. Gerock, 1818 (of Country Dances & Copyright) (= Research Paper 14, 3.6.2015), at learning resource for the dances of the 18th and 19th centuries
  • Paul Cooper, Example Tunes for Country Dancing (= Research Paper 34, 19.2.2019), at Your learning resource for the dances of the 18th and 19th centuries 
  • Gerry Farrell, Indian Music and the West, Oxford, 1997 
  • Roger Fiske, English Theatre Music In The Eighteenth Century, London, New York & Toronto 1973 Roger Fiske, Art.: Butler, Thomas Hamly, in: Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians 3, London, 1980, p. 518 
  • David Golby, Instrumental Teaching in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Abingdon & New York, 2014
  • Charles Humphries & William C.Smith, Music Publishing in the British Isles from the Beginning Until the Middle of the Nineteenth Century, 2nd Ed., Oxford 1970 
  • Michael Kassler, Music Entries at Stationers' Hall 1710-1818. From Lists prepared for William Hawes, D. W. Krummel, and Alan Tyson and from Other Sources, Burlington, 2004 (Online Edition, 2013, partly at Google Books
  • Ralph P. Locke, Musical Exoticism. Images and Reflections, Cambridge, 2011 
  • Ralph P. Locke, Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart, Cambridge, 2015 
  • John W. Moore, Complete Encyclopedia of Music. Elementary, Technical, Historical, Biographical, Vocal, and Instrumental, Jewett & Co., Boston, 1854, at Google Books 
  • Claire M. Nelson, Creating a Notion of 'Britishness'. The Role of Scottish Music in the Negotiation of a Common Culture, with Particular Reference to the 18th Century Accompanied Sonata,Ph.D., Royal College of Music, London, 2003, available at EthOS 
  • Michael V. Pisani, A Chronological Listing of Musical Works on American Indian Subjects, Composed Since 1608, 2006, online at: 
  • Prue Scott, Matthias Holst, in: The Weiss family of Mulhouse (Mulhousien Society), n.d., at 
  • Byron Edward Underwood, The German Prototype of the Melody of "Home! Sweet Home!", in: Jahrbuch für Volksliedforschung 22, 1977, pp. 36-48 
  • Ian Woodfield, English Musicians in the Age of Exploration, Stuyvesant NY, 1995 (= Sociology of Music 8) 
  • Bennett Zon, Representing Non-Western Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Rochester, 2007

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