The Elocution Teacher’s Daughter: a Moral Tale

Before you get too excited about the idea of an immoral daughter, I should let you down gently: the moral doesn’t concern this young lady at all – rather, it’s a warning of what a few holiday hours’ google-searching can turn up!

Brown, Mather, 1761-1831; The Battle of the Nile: Destruction of 'L'Orient', 1 August 1798
Battle of the Nile, destruction of L’Orient 1.8.1798, by Mather Brown (

All I wanted was to find out was the identity of the young lady music teacher who composed a particular song.  A colleague and I are working on a paper about women who composed Napoleonic songs, and I found another which looked chronologically timely, and potentially interesting.  Musically, it truly isn’t a great song in the slightest regard.  The lady didn’t appear to have much clue about harmony, harmonic progressions or satisfactory cadences, and expected her singer to reach a top B twice, not to mention five As!  The British Library has it online – I don’t think anyone will want to perform it, which leaves musicological detectives like me to pore over it and explore its context!

I was curious as to who she was, nonetheless, and equally curious as to the poet who supplied her with the words.  (He probably also published it, since it was later advertised in a novel that he’d published.)  It referenced the Battle of the Nile, and – in a nutshell – the poet believed he’d be able to forget his wounds when his beloved shed tears over them.  It’s a sentimental, human take on the horrors of war – I imagine our young composer would have enjoyed the thought that the protagonist was simply yearning for the sympathetic embrace of his sweetheart.

How the composer encountered the publisher/poet is something we’ll never know.  He was based in London, she in Edinburgh.  Along with literature and a bit of poetry by famous names, he had also already carved a reputation for himself as the pseudonymous “Thomas Little”, editing and publishing illustrated books about – ahem! – romantic love and reproductive anatomy.  (I’m trying not to attract the bots here!)  Shall we just say that the illustrations were detailed, and some years later, one of his books was found being circulated and well-thumbed by the occupants of a prison.  There was also a court-case about the Hansard reporting of this.  John Joseph Stockdale unknown artist image courtesy of British Museum Public DomainAnother of his disreputable triumphs was the publication in 1826 of  a very famous courtesan’s autobiography. Harriette Wilson had been one of Wellington’s mistresses.  So now you know where the phrase, “publish and be damned” comes from – Wellington said it when his identity was revealed.

What does this have to do with a young music teacher composing a setting of a Napoleonic song?  Absolutely nothing!  Her publisher/poet’s first troublesome publication had been released in 1811; perhaps she knew nothing about it.  Her own song was published five years later in 1816.  She married an Edinburgh artist in 1818, probably lived near Dollar in Clackmannanshire when he became art professor at Dollar Academy in 1824, and was widowed in 1829, with three young daughters to look after. (Their only son had died in infancy.)

During her lifetime – before and after marriage – she published ten musical pieces, at least a couple of hymn-tunes, and a melodrama.  Four of her pieces were settings of Scottish songs, and one of them was dedicated to Sir Walter Scott’s daughter, a distant relative.  It’s possible that one of the other songs may also have a Napoleonic theme, but until I go and see the sole surviving copy, I can’t really be sure.  I discovered that she was “a very fine harpist”, but the observation was unreferenced.  (As we all know, you need a CITATION!)

Howe Street Mrs GibsonOne of the hymns – appropriately named with an Edinburgh location – was “Howe Street”, which appeared in Sacred Harmony for the Use of St George’s Church Edinburgh.  You can find this book on IMSLP, or see an abc transcription of the tune on Jack Campin’s Embro, Embro website.  But – as final demonstration that I’ve probably spent too long on the internet today – you can also find the tune used for a psalm-like modern interpretation of a Georgian herbal by scientist Elizabeth Blackwell – with musical adaptation by Frances M. Lynch.  If our lady music teacher doesn’t turn in her grave at the exposure of her Napoleonic poet for what he was, then she will certainly rise to haunt the imaginative interpreters of her psalm-tune!

Curious Herbs (With Mary’s love without her fear)

And the moral of the tale? Sometimes it’s better to take the evidence at face-value.  A composer, a poet, a Napoleonic song – the rest makes for a great day’s Googling, but really has little bearing on the topic in hand!


When Less is More and More is Less

This may sound as though I’m speaking in riddles.  Truly, I’m not!

I alluded in my earlier posting today to the question of “When less is more”, in the context of the apparently minimal amount of Stationers’ Hall music surviving at Edinburgh University Library, and how I was forced to look at the little that was there, in quite a close focus.

But I still have copies of those lists of music in the National Library of Scotland.  So, on the one hand, we have very little of the music surviving in what was then “Edinburgh College”.  On the other hand, we have lists of music from the Advocates Library in 1830, but we don’t know what the purpose of the lists was.

I’ve started to transcribe these lists – only a few pages, but interesting nonetheless.  But, how do I rationalise to other people just why they’re interesting?  And this is why:-

If I can establish which of these pieces actually SURVIVED in different libraries, then I get a snapshot view – fragmented and  blurred, admittedly – of which libraries retained more, or less, and I can see if certain categories were more likely to survive at that time, shortly before the legal deposit system was radically reduced.  Yes, it means another spreadsheet.  But I still think there may be something interesting to unearth.  Watch this space!

And yes, I do still need to establish whether there is music surviving but not yet catalogued online. I know about some of the libraries, but not absolutely clearly for all of them.  That’s why I’m making my visits around the country!





Claiming Copyright in your Music

Music Copyright, the 18th/19th Century Way:

So you’re a composer in Regency Britain, say 1813, and you want to claim copyright inwriting-1043622_640 your music.  What do you do?  Well, if you have a publisher, they might submit it to Stationers’ Hall, where it would be registered.  They might not, though.  (Some publishers thought they’d have the best of both worlds – they’d print a copyright statement to the effect that it had been entered at Stationers’ Hall, but they wouldn’t actually bother doing so.)  In any event, it’s a bit hit or miss.

If you’re self-publishing, then you might consider it in your own interest to register your copyright in the work.  After all, by now it’s at least accepted that composers’ work did count as intellectual property and deserved protection.  That wasn’t necessarily the case in the mid-18th century!

Copies of music registered at Stationers’ Hall would then be sent to all the legal deposit libraries – the British Museum (which became the British Library), Sion College in London, the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, Aberdeen and Trinity College Dublin, the Advocates’ Library (which became the National Library of Scotland), and Kings’ Inns, also in Dublin.  Whether the music gets to all these places is also a bit hit or miss!  It’s not always sent, not always kept methodically upon arrival, and some libraries don’t want all this music anyway.

Tracing It Today

The Claimed from Stationers Hall project sets out to find out more about what happened to all the Stationers’ Hall music.  This is Week 2 of the network’s existence, so you’ve come in right at the start.  If you’re interested in early music publishing, library history, or the social, cultural side of the music borrowed from these libraries, then this network is right up your street.  Please follow this blog, and the Twitter @ClaimedStatHall, and do let us know if you’re working on anything in any way related to this repertoire!

St Andrews and now Aberdeen

Karen has spent some time exploring the rich archival resources at the University of St Andrews, where the Stationers’ Hall music was sifted through, much was catalogued, and then it was eagerly borrowed by a number of people via the professors’ library memberships.  We can trace what was received, find it in a fascinating handwritten catalogue, and even observe who borrowed what.

unknown artist; King's College, Aberdeen
King’s College, Aberdeen
unknown artist
University of Aberdeen

But what of the other libraries?  This week, the magnifying glass focused on the parallel collection in Aberdeen.  Work has been done on the documentation of what was received by the library in the 18th century by former librarian and research scholar Richard Turbet, and we can now see what was received in these early years, even if it doesn’t all survive today.  (Turbet, ‘Music Deposited by Stationers’ Hall at the Library of the University and King’s College of Aberdeen, 1753-96′, RMA Research Chronicle 30 (1997) pp.139-162)

Roughly half of the surviving copyright music is now in the online catalogue there: at the time of writing, 2062 of an approximate 4400 items in the entire bound Stationers Hall Music collection.  How was it used by the community in contemporary Aberdeen, though?  The next question is to establish where there are comparable loan records to those in St Andrews.  We do know, through Richard Turbet’s work, that there were concerns as to what had happened to the Stationers’ Hall music, in the Aberdeen Censor of 1826.  Intriguing!

Catalogues and Conundrums

The union catalogue of UK University and national libraries makes it easy to trace most things so long as they have been catalogued online.  However, differences in cataloguing mean that it’s not always as easy as you’d think.  Take Gesualdo Lanza’s Elements of Singing in the Italian and English Styles.

Different cataloguing approaches make it a little difficult to untangle, but if you search Lanza, Elements of Singing, you retrieve 16 entries, one of which is just a print portrait. It was published in 1813 – different catalogues have it self-published, published by Button and Whittaker, or indeed printed and sold by Chappell.  Around 1819-20, an abridged version appeared, again by Chappell (though the catalogue records don’t all state this the same way), and apparently again in 1826.

So there are at least two if not three basic versions, and you’d expect them each to appear in all the copyright libraries?  Think again!  Differently styled catalogue records reveal copies of the 1813 publication in Glasgow, St Andrews, Aberdeen, the British Library and Oxford Bodleian, and a copy in York, which was not a copyright library.  The other legal deposit libraries don’t have it, unless it’s still not catalogued online.  (That’s another interesting question.  Some pre-1801 material is definitely not yet catalogued – grant-funding for retro-conversion theoretically took care of (most of) the post 1801 material, just over a decade ago.)  In total, the two or three versions of 1813, 1820 and perhaps 1826 yield 16 entries in Copac, which equates to slightly more than 16 copies.

This Was Week 2 of the Project

Besides looking at work already done on the Aberdeen collection, this week has also entailed documentation of some of the conferences and other networks that touch upon the subject of Regency music or library history – see our Useful Links page, and do please contact us if there are others we’ve missed!  And of course, we’ve been networking.  We’ve tweeted and we’ve emailed, and we’re loving the responses we’ve received.  Keep in touch!

The Long Tail of Research …

I’ve recently spent a few days assessing a departmental music collection in St Andrews.  I St Andrewshad my ‘librarian hat’ on, primarily, but even that hat has a musicological lining, so I couldn’t help thinking research-minded thoughts from time to time.  In particular, one train of thought was provoked by the discovery of a pile of early 20th century popular songs with eye-catching cover art, betraying cultural trends and prevailing preoccupations such as patriotism around war-time; nostalgia; family ties; romantic relationships; or the portrayal of children.  Not ‘serious music’, this, but the pictures and the content, not to mention musical styles such as ragtime, all tell us about popular musical preferences.

Cover art - ukuleleIs it worth keeping, then?  It might be.  Not for the classical musicians to attempt to analyse as they would a Haydn string quartet, but to inform us about cultural history.  So, if early twentieth century popular music can inform us in this way, then it follows that the Georgian and early Victorian songs and other material appearing in legal deposit music collections will have their own stories to tell … and any statistics about library usage tells us just which volumes were popular with the borrowers.  I’ve made a start on this with the St Andrews historical copyright music collection, having collated the music borrowing records from 1801-1849 and started gathering statistics.

My other research-minded thoughts were more directly focused on the St Andrews historical collection.  We know that a twentieth-century professor dis-bound some volumes and redistributed their contents to other collections.  (How much he did, I have yet to discover. Not a huge amount, maybe, but it’s interesting all the same, isn’t it?)  And I’ve a suspicion that I unearthed a handful of disembodied legal deposit music pieces during my departmental collection assessment.  The librarian in me knows that they should go “home” to their special collection friends and relatives.  But the researcher itches to check out whether they really are taken from earlier bound collections, and whether they number amongst the items listed in the archival receipt books of materials claimed from Stationers’ Hall.

So, the Claimed from Stationers Hall project may be focused on early nineteenth century library collections, but there’s a long tail extending into at least the mid-twentieth.  It was hinted at in Elizabeth Frame’s article for the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions, but today’s scholars need to understand in perhaps greater detail just what the esteemed professor got up to!

Research Impact in Library Land

I’m reading a book about research impact at the moment.   (We have a copy in the library, but I’ve also got it on Kindle, so I have no excuse not to plough right through it!)  I must admit, there are moments when I metaphorically kick myself under the table, because some of the advice is basically common sense.  But, if it’s common sense, why didn’t I think of it?  So it’s a good idea to get reminded of the obvious things whilst simultaneously getting plenty of fresh ideas, and just generally making sure that impact is built into this research network right from the very start.

So, here are the first questions, quoted directly from my new guru (Mark S. Reed, author of the Research Impact Handbook, pp.72-73):-

  • “What aspects of [our] research might be interesting or useful to someone?…”
  • “Could [our] research help address these needs [ie, issues, policy areas … trends]?”
  • Can our research help remove barriers that are currently inhibiting these areas?
  • If we know who might benefit from our research, can we identify “what aspects of [our] research they are likely to be most interested in?” Could we make it even more relevant?
  • So, what changes could our research effect?
  • And do we know who would benefit and who we should guard against disadvantaging?

Please don’t leave these questions hanging in the air! I’m looking for answers, and I’m keen to engage with other researchers interested in similar issues in this curious world where musicology, book history and library history meet with legal deposit on the one hand, and individual music-makers on the other.  Do share your views!