Tuesday, September 8, 2015

"Melodies of Different Nations": Anthologies of International "National Airs" in Britain 1800-1830 - Pt. 1

The years from the late 1780s until 1830 may have been something like the "golden era" of the national air. A great number of relevant collections of songs and tunes appeared in Britain: first and foremost of course books of Scottish, Irish and Welsh songs and tunes. But besides these there were also collections of foreign national airs, for example from Germany, Denmark or Russia (see The Russian Troubadour, Or a Collection of Ukrainian, and Other National Melodies, 1816, at the Internet Archive)  Even more exotic tunes from far away places were made available, for example from China - like Karl Kambra's Two Original Chinese Songs, c. 1796 (at Harvard UL) - and India, - like Charles Horn's Indian Melodies (c. 1813). 

In fact there was no shortage of foreign and exotic tunes - or what was regarded as such - and it was only natural to compile and publish anthologies including national airs from all kinds of different countries, either only melodies or complete songs with new English poetry. The idea of comparative anthologies of "national" music was of course not new. Already in 1730 - only a few years after the "invention" of this new genre in Scotland and the appearance of the first relevant tune collections there and in Ireland - the London printer and publisher Daniel Wright put together a little booklet with the title Aria di Camera, a "Choice Collection of Scotch, Irish & Welsh Airs for the Violin and German Flute" (see IMCO). 

More exotic surveys were first made available in French musicological works. Rousseau's Dictionnaire de Musique (1768) included a page with assorted tunes from China, Canada, Switzerland and Persia and Laborde's Essai Sur La Musique Ancienne Et Moderne (1780) offered not only a fascinating collection of songs from Scandinavia (Bk 4, pp. 397-418) but also melodies from China, Ireland and Russia (pp. 174-7).

But it was Italian musician Domenico Corri (1748-1825) who put together the first truly multicultural anthology of "national songs" published in Britain. He had just come to Scotland in the early 1780s and his first big project was a Select Collection of the Most Admired Songs, Duetts &c. from Operas in the highest esteem and from other works in Italian, English, French, Scotch & Irish in three volumes (Edinburgh, c. 1783-4). The first book included the standard repertoire of Italian songs, mostly from operas, by popular composers (available at the Internet Archive & Google Books). The second one offered "English Songs" by Arne, Hook and others while the third (both only available behind closed doors at ECCO) consisted "of National Airs, Notturni, Duetts, Terzetts, Canzonets, Rondos, Catches, & Glees. In the Italian, French, English, Scotch and Irish Languages". Besides the most popular Scottish and Irish songs - some even in Gaelic - he  added French airs, Venetian and Neapolitan ballads and even an Persian song. In fact this volume was at that time the most impressive collection of international "national airs" available in Britain. 

Meanwhile in Germany Johann Gottfried Herder had published his Volkslieder (1778/9), an immensely influential anthology of "national songs". Of course he only included the words but no tunes. Nonetheless this collection would inspire numerous musicians and the first was the legendary Abbé Vogler whose Polymelos ou Caractères de Musique de differentes Nations - with 6 tunes - came out in 1791 (available at BLB Karlsruhe, DonMusDr 272). Vogler had been in London the year before and he was apparently inspired by multicultural musical atmosphere there. In fact he started this project in earnest after his return to Germany and some of the tunes he had surely learned in London, for example the Scottish one as well as a Chinese melody that he then regularly performed in his concerts and later included in a second version of his Polymelos in 1806 (for more about Vogler see this text in my blog) . 

The real history of comparative collections of international national airs in England only started with the groundbreaking publications of Welsh harper Edward Jones. Most important were the Lyric Airs: consisting of Specimens of Greek, Albanian, Walachian, Turkish, Arabian, Persian, Chinese, and Moorish National Songs and Melodies in 1805 (available at the Internet Archive). In the title he also claimed that this was the "first selection of the kind ever yet offered to the public". It seems he didn't know Vogler's little collection. Jones himself would publish more works of this kind during the next 15 years (see the previous blogpost) but also other publishers and musicians followed suit. Here are short introductions to what I regard as the most important publications of this kind between 1808 and 1830. 
  • William Crotch, Specimens of Various Styles of Music referred to in A Course of Lectures, read at Oxford & London and Adapted to keyed Instruments, Vol. 1, London, n. d. [1808]
    (available at the Internet Archive
Crotch (1775-1847), composer, organist and scholar, offered here a fascinating collection of national tunes from around the world. Of course there was the usual amount of Irish, Scottish, Welsh and "old English" melodies but he also included tunes from European countries like Germany, Italy, France, Norway as well more exotic ones, for example from China, India and America. This book is the closest to a documentation of what was known at that time. 


Mr. Crotch clearly knew all relevant literature, both from Britain and from abroad. But he also had an informant who supplied him with otherwise unpublished material. John Malchair (1730-1812) from Oxford, a musician and painter of German origin (see Wollenberg 2007; Harrison et al. 1998) had made "National Music his study" (p. 3) and was able to help him out with British and foreign pieces from his own collection.

The introduction is well worth reading. Crotch added notes about the sources of the tunes as well as some helpful comments. As the title says the book was supposed to accompany and illustrate his lectures about this topic that he held for many years. As late as 1829 one was announced in The Harmonicon (p. 160): 
"On the Music of the Ancients, and National Music. The National Music of the Hebrews, of the Hebrews, of China, Java, the East Indies, Greece, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, France, Scandinavia, and Norway".
  • William Shield, Introduction to Harmony. A New Edition (Being The Second), London, n. d. [1815]
    (available at the Internet Archive; the new appendix was also published separately and is also available at the Internet Archive
Composer William Shield also felt it necessary to add a selection of national airs to the new edition of his popular standard work (pp. 26-43). Of course this was not as comprehensive as Crotch's collection but nonetheless interesting. He confined himself mostly to tunes and songs from the British isles and only included a few more exotic pieces like a song sung by Canadian voyagers (p. 39). 

These collections by Crotch and Shield - and at least partly some of those by Jones - had a documentary and more or less scholarly approach even though they of course arranged the tunes for practical use by musicians and singers. A different kind of approach was first introduced by George Thomson from Edinburgh for his Scottish collections (since 1793). He commissioned popular composers like Pleyel, Haydn, later Beethoven to write the arrangements and also added new lyrics - by Burns and other poets - if he thought the old words inappropriate and not up to his standards. This was perfected by Thomas Moore for his famous Irish Melodies (since 1808) where he used these traditional tunes as a starting point and basis for new popular songs. 

His concept was then also applied for other national collections like Horn's Indian Melodies, the Hebrew Melodies with new poetry by Lord Byron (since 1815), Sola's Spanish Melodies (1821; see The Quarterly Musical Magazine And Review 3, 1821, pp. 477-84), Eavestaff's French Melodies (1825, see Quarterly Musical Magazine And Review 7, 1825, pp. 504-6, The Harmonicon, 3, 1825, p. 65 & p. 205) and Moscheles' Tyrolese Melodies (1827-9, at the Internet Archive). In fact there was no shortage of Melodies of all kinds and British poets were in great demand to supply them with new poetry. 
  • A Selection from the Melodies of Different Nations, including a few popular Airs by celebrated Authors, united to original English Verses never before published, with new Symphonies and Accompaniments for the Piano Forte by Muzio Clementi. The Poetry by David Thomson, Volume 1st, London, 1814
    (not yet digitized; see catalog Bodleian, Oxford: Tyson Mus. 1126, with title list) 
The first one to use Moore's approach for a collection of tunes of "different Nations" was famous composer and pianist Muzio Clementi (1752-1832). He already worked at that time with poet David Thomson - about whom I don't know anything - on another project along the same lines: Mozart's melodies with new English poetry. The first volume had appeared the previous year (see the review in Monthly Magazine 36, 1813, p. 154). So it was perhaps only natural to try out international airs. One reviewer called it a "valuable and elegant little work" (The European Magazine 66, 1814, pp. 138-40; see also Monthly Magazine, Vol. 37, pp. 247-8). But it seems that this collection was not a big success. No further volumes were published.
  • George Thomson & Ludwig van Beethoven 
I was somewhat surprised to find out that even George Thomson from Edinburgh, the publisher of the groundbreaking Select Collections of Scottish Airs - and also of Welsh and Irish collections - tried to produce one of international songs (see Cooper, pp. 9, 25-29, 57, 67-8, 217-8). In fact in a letter from January 1st, 1816 he asked Beethoven in Vienna - with whom he was working at this time - to supply him with tunes from, for example, Germany, Poland, Russia, Tyrol, Venice and Spain (Albrecht 1996, No. 215, pp. 87-8). 

All in all Thomson managed to acquire 29 tunes, the most of them contributed by Beethoven (for the sources see Dorfmüller 1993) and few by himself. But this promising project failed. Apparently there were problems with finding adequate English poetry for these melodies. Most of these songs including Beethoven's arrangements were only first published very much later in Germany: 
  • Ludwig van Beethoven, Neues Volksliederheft. 23 Tiroler, Schweizer, schwedische, spanische und andere Volksweisen. für eine Singstimme und Klavier mit Begleitung von Violine and Violoncell. Zum ersten Male nach der Handschrift herausgegeben von Georg Schünemann, Leipzig, n. d. [c. 1940]
    (available at Beethoven-Haus, Bonn & IMSLP

Literature: 
  • Theodore Albrecht, Letters to Beethoven & Other Correspondence, Vol. 2: 1813-1823, Lincoln., 1996 
  • Barry Cooper, Beethoven's Folksong Settings. Chronology, Sources, Style, Oxford & New York 1994 
  • Kurt Dorfmüller, Beethovens "Volksliederjagd", in: Stephan Hörner & Bernhold Schmid (ed.), Festschrift Horst Leuchtmann, Tutzing, 1993, pp. 107-25 
  • Colin Harrison, Susan Wollenberg & Julian Munby, John Malchair of Oxford. Artist and Musician, Oxford, 1998 
  • Susan Wollenberg, John Baptist Malchair of Oxford and his Collection of 'National Music', in: Rachel Cowgill & Peter Holman (ed.), Music in the British Provinces, 1690-1914, Aldershot & Burlington, 2007, pp. 152-162 
Go to Part 2

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