Wednesday, January 18, 2017

John Abell's "Songs in Several Languages" (1715)


Foreign songs and music - both from outside of Europe and from the European periphery - were made available in England, Germany and France already since the late 16th century (see in my blog: "Exotic" Songs and Tunes in European Publications 1577-1830). Multicultural anthologies of texts or tunes began to appear much later (see in this blog: "Melodies of Different Nations": Anthologies of International "National Airs" in Britain 1800-1830). But in England there was one very early attempt at this concept that predated - as far as I know - all other publications of this kind. On June 30, 1715 singer and lutenist John Abell performed at a concert in London an interesting collection of songs from different countries. This repertoire was documented in a little booklet that was sold to the audience: 
  • [John Abell], A Collection of Songs in Several Languages. To be perform'd at Mr. Abell's Consort of Music [London, 1715] [ESTC T219143], at ECCO, also at the Internet Archive


Here we can find the words of more than 20 songs: some were from England, France, Italy and Germany and others from Scotland, Wales - with a Latin text! - and Ireland. But besides these he also introduced Greek, Dutch, Swedish,. Danish and even Turkish pieces as well as one in Lingua Franca, the Mediterranean pidgin of commerce. This was in fact a multicultural set of songs that must have sounded quite exotic to the audience at that show. I am not aware of any collection of music or lyrics from this time that offered something similar. 

John Abell (1653-c.1724; see BDA 1, pp. 6-9, at GB; Farmer 1952; also Wikipedia) from Scotland at first managed to make a career as a musician in royal service. Already in 1679 he became member of the Chapel Royal and of the King's private music. Charles II even allowed him to study in Italy. But as a Catholic he ran into some troubles after the Glorious Revolution. In 1679 he was "discharged as being a papist" (Hawkins 4, pp. 445-6) and thought it better to leave the country. Abell then spent the next decade on the continent. 

He traveled through Europe and worked for some time in the Netherlands (see Rasch, p. 12), in France, in different parts of Germany and even in Poland. German conductor and composer Johann Mattheson (1739, p. 95) noted that Abell sang "to much applause" in Hamburg and Holland and was also very impressed by his voice. But at least for some time he may have been "very poor" (BDA 1, p. 8) and only once he had a permanent position as intendant in Cassel. Otherwise Mr. Abell seems to have been always on the move. Around 1700 he was allowed to return to England. The following year some of his concerts were announced in newspapers (see also London Stage 2.1, pp. 11, 16, 19, 20, 26, 30): 
"At the Theatre in Dorset Garden on Wednesday the 21st. of this Instant [...] will be a Performance of Musick in English, Italian and French by Mr. John Abell, beginning exactly at Six [...]" (Post Boy, No. 935, 15.-17.5.1701, at BBCN)
"At the Desire of several Persons of Quality, Mr. Abell will Sing, on Monday the 11th of this Instant August, at Five of the Clock precisely, in the Great Room, at the Wells at Richmond, it being the last time of his Singing this Season, and will Perform in English, Latin, Italian, Spanish, and French, accompanied with Instrumental Musick by the Best Masters. And after that will Sing alone to the Harpsichord. The usual Dancing will begin at Eight of the Clock [...]" (Post Boy, No. 972 7.-9.8.1701, at BBCN).
"Mr. Abell having had the Honour lately, to Sing to the Nobility and Gentry of Richmond and the Neighbouring Towns, thinks himself bound in Gratitude, to give an Invitation to the said Noble Assembly, to return his most Humble Thanks with a Performance of New Musick, in English, Latin, Italian, French, &c. On Monday next, being the 8th of September 1701, at 3 of the Clock exactly, in that most Excellent Musick-Room of Richmond Wells; being Honour'd and Accompany'd by the Greatest Masters of Europe, it being the last time of his Singing this Summer [...]" (English Post with News Foreign and Domestick, No. 140, 1.-3.9.1701, Post Boy, No. 983, 2.-4.9.1701, at BBCN).
"This present Monday, being the 8th Inst. at 3 of the Clock exactly at Richmond Wells, will be perform'd a New Consort of Instrumental Musick, by the Greatest Masters in Europe, for the last time this Summer. Mr. Abell will sing in English, Latin, Italian, Spanish and French [...]" (London Post with Intelligence Foreign and Domestick, No. 356, 5.-8.9.1701, at BBCN)
"At Chelsey Colledge, in the great Hall, on Saturday the 25th of this present April, at 5 of the Clock, will be perform'd Mr. Abell's new Consort of English Musick, composed on that Royal Subject; With other Songs in several Languages, accompanied by the greatest Masters of Instrumental Musick" (Post Man and the Historical Account, No. 959, 21.-23.4.1702, at BBCN). 
Among his published works from this time were two anthologies that presented foreign songs: 
  • A Collection of Songs in Several Languages. Compos'd by Mr. John Abell, Pearson, London, 1701 [ESTC N15004], at ECCO 
  • A Choice Collection of Italian Ayres, Pearson, London, 1703 [ESTC N15061] , at IMSLP 
It seems Mr. Abell was already at that time some kind of expert in this field even though his repertoire wasn't as exotic as it would be in 1715. It is not clear what he did during the next 12 years. He was only rarely mentioned in the contemporary press. At least for some time he worked as a singing teacher and one may assume that he also kept on performing. A stay in Ireland during the years 1703 and 1704 and a concert Scotland in 1706 are documented (see Farmer, p. 453). He also traveled again abroad. For example he sang in Antwerp in 1707 and 1709 (Schreurs, p. 119) and in Amsterdam in 1709 and 1714 (Rasch, p. 12-3). But otherwise information about him is rare. Only in 1715 his name appeared again when the show on June 30 was announced: 
"A Consort of Music, in 14 Languages, to be perform'd by Mr. Abell, lately arrived from Italy [...] at his Consort of Vocal and Instrumental Musick, compos'd by the best Masters in Europe, to be perform'd at Stationer's Hall, near Ludgate, to Morrow the 30th of June, at 7 a Clock in the Evening, where he is to be accompanied by a great Number of the best English Masters in Instrumental, with Sicilian Illuminations. The Songs as follow. Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, English, Scotch, Irish, French, High-Dutch, Low-Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Lingua Franca, Turkish. The Sea-Compass to be Sung if desired [...] Note, That all the Songs herein mentioned, will be printed in their proper Languages, and distributed at the Place of Performance" (Daily Courant, No. 4263, 23.6.1715; No. 4266, 27.6.1715; No. 4268, 29.6.1715, at BBCN; see also London Stage 2.1, p. 361). 
Apparently Abell had again traveled to the continent and just arrived back home. It is also clear that he regarded this as a special and unusual project. All languages were listed and the booklet with the words of the songs was also announced. According to one report the concert was successful: 
"The Pleasure that our English People of Quality took, in being acquainted, that a Gentleman of ours, the curious Mr. Abel [sic!], hath brought over hither all the most delicate Eentertainments of Musick that are in Use and Request among Foreigners, both in the dead and living Languages, made them last Thursday, for his Encouragement, flock in abundance to his Concert" (Weekly Journal with Fresh Advices Foreign and Domestick, 2.7.1715, p. 6, at BBCN). 
Even the Princess of Wales sat in the audience. But I haven't seen more reviews and as far as I know Mr. Abell has not performed this repertoire again.

Where did get all these foreign songs? Some of them may have been taken from printed publications. This seems to be the case with one of the French pieces, "Dans un desert innaccessible" which is a cantata by composer André Campra (1660-1744) published in 1708 in his Cantates Françoises (No. 6: "Les Femmes", in: Vol. 1, pp. 113-145). Others may in fact have been examples of the popular music of that countries, what later would be called Volkslied or national song. I haven't yet been able to identify them. Especially interesting is the German song that I have not seen anywhere else ([pp. 8-9]):
Swartz Brawne Magdelein
Hast du mich liebe
Setz ein hut mit federn auf
Und ziehe mit mir in kriege.
[...] 
The same can be said about the texts from Sweden respectively Denmark ([p. 14]). This must have been the first time that songs from these countries were made available in Britain. I know of no earlier examples. Particularly interesting is the Turkish text ([p. 15]): 
Gelmedi Janam Gelmedi
Gelmedi dostum Gelmedi
Ni Ajub Ilandi
Jol Balande
Gelmedi
This one as well as the one in Lingua Franca he may have learned while in Italy. Abell also performed Welsh, Scottish and Irish songs. The one from Wales was sung with a Latin text ([p. 8]. Scotland was "represented" by "Catherine Oggie" ([pp. 6-7]), an Anglo-Scottish - or "pseudo-Scottish - ballad: 
As I went forth to view the Spring
Upon a morning early,
To chear my Brain,
When Flowers grew fresh
And fairly.
[...] 
This is a song with an interesting history (see Simpson, pp. 54-5, Chappell II, pp. 616). The tune was first printed in 1686 in the 7th edition of Playford's Dancing Master as "Lady Catherine Ogle, a new Dance" (No. 8, [p. 212], at IMSLP; SITM, No. 104) and also in Apollo's Banquet (5th ed., 1687, I, No. 96 & II, No. 64; SITM, No. 114 & 118), another important anthology of tunes. Thomas d'Urfey then wrote two new texts. One appeared first in 1700 in an early edition of Wit and Wirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy as "A New Scotch Song" ("Walking down the Highland Town", Vol. 2, pp. 201-2, ESTC R224073, at EEBO), the other - "Bonny Kathern Loggy (A Scotch Song)" - in 1714 in a later edition of this famous anthology ("As I came down the hey [sic!] Land Town", Vol. 5, 1714, pp. 170-2, ESTC T52601, at ECCO; see both songs in the ed. publ. in 1719/20: Vol. 2, pp. 200-1; Vol. 6, p. 274). The latter was also published as sheet music at around the same time: "As I came down the Heyland Town. Bonny Kathern Loggy. A Scotch Song" (see Catalog BL).

It seems at that time it was a kind of popular hit. Abell introduced a new text to this tune and it is not unreasonable to assume that he had written it himself. His new version was then also published as sheet music: "Bonny Kathern Oggy, as it was sung by Mr. Abell at his consort in Stationer's Hall" (see catalog Bodl.). A  modified variant with some new verses appeared - without any reference to Abell's performance - a year later with the title "A new Song To the Tune of Katherine Loggy" in a popular anthology of songs, Walsh's Merry Musician, Or A Cure for the Spleen as an alternate text to d'Urfey's "Bonny Kathern Loggy" (Vol. 1, 1716, pp. 295-6, pp. 224-6, at FSL). 

A decade later Allan Ramsay published Abell's text - with some "corrections" - in the first edition of the Tea-Table Miscellany (1724, pp. 133-5) and in 1725 William Thomson included the words and the tune in his Orpheus Caledonius (p. 22, at NLS; see new ed. 1733, Vol. 1, No. XXII, pp. 44-7). It became one of the most successful and popular Scottish songs. Burns later used the tune for his "Highland Mary". 

It is still sometimes claimed that Abell sang this song already in 1680 (see f. ex. Farmer 1952, p. 453, Porter 2007, p. 38). But this is wrong and misleading. Stenhouse in his notes to the Scots Musical Museum had dated Abell's sheet music as from this year, maybe in an attempt to make this song much older than it really was (see Illustrations, 1853, p. 154). This fantasy was already debunked by Chappell in his Popular Music of the Olden Time (Vol. 2, [c.1859], p. 616). 

From the chronology of the relevant publications it is clear that Abell's version can only have been written around the time he performed it in his concert. There is simply no evidence that it was older. In fact we can see here how a future Scottish national song grew out of the pseudo-Scottish pastiches that were so popular during the early years of the 18th century. 

Of Abell's two Irish songs ([pp. 7-8]) - both in mutilated Gaelic - one is also particularly noteworthy because it served as the starting point for the development of another future national song (see Olson 2001; Irish Song Project): 
Shein sheis shuus lum
Drudenal as fask me
Core la boè Funareen
A Homom crin a Party
Tamagra sa souga
Ta she loof her Layder
Hey Ho Rirko
Serenish on bash me.
Farmer (p. 453) has claimed that Abell already sang "his Irish song 'Shein sios agus suas liom" in Dublin on "February 7, 1704, at the festivities at Dublin Castle for the birthday of Queen Anne". He even suggested that Abell had written it himself "on his return from the continent". Unfortunately I find here no reference to the source of this interesting information. He was in Dublin during the years 1703 and 1704 with the Duke of Ormond and he at least performed there a "Birthday Ode for Queen Anne" (see Boydell 1988, revisions, No. 33). But, to be true, I haven't yet seen any other documentary evidence for a performance of this Irish song before the show in 1715 and I must admit I have some doubts. Nor can I believe that Abell waited more than 10 years until he used it again. 

In fact the real history of this song only started in 1715 at the Concert at Stationer's Hall. It was also published as sheet music and this was the first time this particular tune appeared in print: "Shein sheis shuus lum. An Irish Song. Sung by Mr. Abell at his Consort at Stationers Hall" (at Irish Song Project: Music Facsimile). In 1716 this piece was also included in the Merry Musician as "An Irish song. Sung by Mr. Abel at his Consort at Stationers Hall" (Vol. 1, 1716, pp. 327-8). 

A decade later the tune also found a place in the very first anthology of Irish Music, publisher William Neale's Colection of the most Celebrated Irish Tunes proper for the Violin, German Flute or Hautboy (c. 1724, p. 17, at IMCO). But the melody became very famous several decades after that with a new text written by young George Ogle, future Irish politician and hobby-poet: "Shepherds I have lost my love". But this is another story that I will try to put together some time in the near future. 

All in all Abell's Songs in Several Languages was a fascinating collection even though the music was missing and only two of these songs were later published with melodies as sheet music. With this "multicultural" anthology he was anticipating ideas that would only come to the fore much later. Of course a theoretical background á la Herder had not yet been developed. More important at that time was surely the novelty value of this kind of "exotic" songs. But nonetheless Mr. Abell's Songs may count as an early anthology of international national airs, long before this particular genre became common. 

Unfortunately this was a publication of limited circulation. The booklet was only sold to the audience on this day but was never made available to a wider public. Therefore Abell's groundbreaking song collection was quickly forgotten and - as far as I know - never referred to later. Only the two songs published as sheet music - "Shein sheis shuus lum" and "Catherine Oggie" - survived. In these two cases Abell served as an important mediator. His versions later developed into popular and "authentic" national airs

Literature 
  • BBCN = 17th & 18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers (Gale) 
  • BDA = Philip H. Highfill et al., (ed.), A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800, Vol.1 - 16, Carbondale, 1973
  • Brian Boydell, A Dublin Musical Calendar 1700-1760, Dublin 1988 
  • William Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time. A Collection of Ancient Songs, Ballads, and Dance Tunes, Illustrative of the National Music of England, Vol. II, London, n. d. [1859] , available at the Internet Archive (here also Vol. 1
  • H. G. Farmer, A King's Musician for the Lute and Voice: John Abell (1652/31724), in Max Hinrichsen (ed.), Music Book. Hinrichsen's Musical Yearbook 7, 1952, pp. 445-56 
  • John Hawkins, A General History of the Science and Practice of Music, 5 Vols., Payne, London, 1776, at the Internet Archive 
  • Irish Song Project: types and histories - "Shein Sheis Shuus Lum" (Queen's University Belfast) 
  • The London Stage 1660 - 1800. A Calendar Of Plays, Entertainments & Afterpieces Together With Casts, Box-Receipts And Contemporary Comment, Part I: 1660-1700, ed. by William van Lennep, Carbondale, 1965 (available at HathiTrust
  • Johan Mattheson, Der Vollkommene Capellmeister. Das ist gründliche Anzeige aller deerjenigen Sachen, die einer wissen, können, und vollkommen inne haben muß, der einer Kapelle mit Ehren und Nutzen vorstehen will. Zum Versuch entworffen, Herold, Hamburg, 1739, at the Internet Archive [= GB] 
  • Bruce Olson, Early Irish Tune Title Index, 2001
  • James Porter, Introduction. Defining Strains: Tradition, invention, genre and context in musical life, in: James Porter (ed.), Defining Strains. The Musical Life of Scots in the Seventeenth Century, Oxford etc., 2007, pp. 19-46 
  • Rudolf Rasch, Geschiedenis van de Muziek in de Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden 1572-1795 (= Mijn Werk op Internet, Deel Een), Hoofdstuk Dertien: Het Concertwezen, 2013, acc. 17.01.2017 
  • Eugeen Schreurs, Church music and minstrel music in the Southern Netherlands, with a special focus on Antwerp, in: Stefanie Beghein, Bruno Blondé & Eugeen Schreurs (eds.), Music and the City. Musical Cultures and Urban Societies in the Southern Netherlands and Beyond, c. 1650-1800, Leuven, 2013 
  • Claude Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad and Its Music, New Brunswick 1966
  • SITM = Aloys Fleischmann (ed.), Sources Of Irish Traditional Music, C. 1600 - 1855, 2 Vols., New York & London 1998 
  • William Stenhouse, Illustrations of the Lyric Poetry of Scotland. Originally compiled to accompany the "Scots Musical Museum," and now published separately, with Additional Notes and illustrations, Edinburgh & London, 1853, at the Internet Archive