Nathaniel Gow’s Small Share of Trouble

Having transcribed the dedications to Niel and Nathaniel’s Complete Repository yesterday, you might have guessed that Karen’s twitching fingers wouldn’t have been able to keep away from further Gow publications in an idle moment this evening.  At first glance, it seems that Nathaniel might have been the instigator of these dedications – certainly, there was no interesting commentary in Niel Gow’s early collections.

But then, around 1810, Nathaniel decided to branch out, producing The Vocal Melodies of Scotland, dedicated to His Grace The Duke of Buccleuch & Queensberry, Arranged For The Piano Forte or Harp, Violin & Violoncello.  This in itself is interesting – he has the pianoforte named first, but he hasn’t yet dropped the violin and violoncello.  There’s no flowery dedication to His Grace, but the first page of song-tunes (no lyrics) alludes to the Gows’ earlier publications of strathspeys and reels – and, again, to their pursuit of Conformity!  Note that just as Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum had as subtitle, ‘our ancient national airs’, so Nathaniel Gow here alludes to ‘Our Original Native Melodies’.  (Who said nationalism was anything new?!)  The emboldened type is copied from Gow’s own typeset:-

From the marked approbation with which the Public honoured Niel Gow and Sons’ Editions of Strathspeys and Reels, in adopting their Setts as Standard, the Editor is induced to hope that the following Collection of our Original Native Melodies may be favourably received, and should it have, even in any degree, the effect of producing a Conformity in the playing of these Beautiful Simple Airs, he will be amply repaid for his small share of trouble.

Niel and Nathaniel Gow’s Controlling Influence?

You might wonder why anyone would bother transcribing the old-fashioned, sycophantic dedications that appear at the start of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century national song or dance collections!  However, if you strip away the grovelling, boot-licking protestations of admiration, you’re left with three thoughts.

  1. Patronage was really important!
  2. There was a preoccupation with presenting this repertoire in what was perceived as its original and unadorned simplicity.
  3. At some level there was the idea that one could persuade everyone to adhere to this impossible ideal.

It’s important to understand the context in which collections were compiled, and that’s what this paratextual material essentially reveals.

For example, we share with you here the four dedications offered by Niel and Nathaniel Gow to their Complete Repository of Slow Strathspeys and Dances.  (That was the title of Parts 1, 3 and 4.  Part 2 was Complete Repository of Scots Tunes, Strathspeys, Jigs and Dances).  See how, in Part First, the Gows claimed to be publishing this repertoire ‘free from the Corruption of Whim or Caprice’; by Part Second, they were striving for ‘Conformity in playing these tunes’; and by Part Fourth in 1817, they were expressing satisfaction that they’d achieved their aim of getting everyone to play ‘the same notes of every tune’.  A vain hope, we suggest – especially considering the footnote stating that the “setts” of these tunes were different to anything every published before.  (And remember that the term ‘Amateurs’ was not derogatory at this time – it meant people who could indulge themselves in their love of music without having to be paid money to play it.)

GOW COMPLETE REPOSITORY – DEDICATIONS

[From the 2nd edition, GB-Gu Ca11-y.30, p.1].  Part the First.  “TO HER GRACE the DUTCHESS of GORDON.  The Publishers of the Following Repository of Original Scots Slow Strathspeys and Dances, would be wanting in the Duty they owe to your Grace, were they not to embrace this Opportunity to Acknowledge the very great Obligation they lay under to your Grace, and how much it is owing, to your Grace’s kind patronage, that so great a preference has hitherto been given to the Setts of Scots Strathspeys and Reels published by Niel Gow & Sons.

“In presenting the present to the Public, which is the first time those tunes in the Stile as played by Niel Gow and Sons have been in print, it has been the Object of the Publishers to preserve them for the Amateurs of that Stile of Music in their native Simplicity, and free from the Corruption of Whim or Caprice, and the Publishers humbly hope they will be received by your Grace and their numerous other Friends and the Public at large as a Testimony of their profound Gratitude, and Respect, and we have the Honor to be your Graces much Obliged and Devoted Humble Servants. Niel Gow & Sons.

[At foot of p.1]: “As the Tunes now Published differ more or less from any Sett formerly published the Publishers have entered them in Stationers Hall agreeable to act of Parliament.”

[NB the 3rd edition, ‘corrected and improved by Nath: Gow’, resets the words and modernises ‘Stile’ to ‘Style’, but otherwise the dedication and footnote remain unaltered.]

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And some blatant piracy?  In 1811, Glaswegian Malcolm Keith brought out a very close copy of Gow’s first Complete Repository.  His dedication was more egalitarian – TO THE PUBLIC – but clearly based on Gow, as were the tunes that followed.  If you’re going to steal someone’s thunder, you might as well do it with gusto!  Here’s Keith’s dedication:-

‘TO THE PUBLIC’
The Publisher of the following Repository of Original Scots Slow Strathspeys and Dances, would be wanting in the duty he owes to them and his Friends, were he not to embrace this Opportunity to acknowledge the very great Obligation he lies under for the kind patronage and liberal encouragement he has formerly obtained.
In presenting the present Repository to the Public, it has been the object of the Publisher to preserve them in their original native stile and simplicity free from the corruption of Whim or Caprice; the Publisher therefore humbly hopes that it will be received by his Friends and the Public:
To whom he remains, with the utmost Esteem & Gratitude,
their most Obliged and Obt. Humble Servant
M. KEITH.

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[From the 2nd edition, GB-Gu Ca11-y.30, p.1].  Part the Second.  “To Her Grace the Duchess of Buccleugh.  With the greatest deference and respect, we lay this Second Volume of our Repository before your Grace and the public.

“The ORIGINAL SCOTS STRATHSPEYS, REELS, and JIGS, of which this Collection Consist, are brought forward with a view, to serve as a STANDARD of those NATIONAL TUNES and DANCES; for, we Cannot avoid mentioning, that in every part of SCOTLAND where we have occasionally been, and from every observation we were able to make, have not ONCE met with TWO PROFESSIONAL MUSICIANS who play the SAME notes of ANY tune!  This being the Cace [sic], the Standard now proposed, will we hope, appear abundantly apparent; and that a CONFORMITY in playing those tunes, may with great propriety be adopted.  We are encouraged to entertain this idea, from the favourable reception which our former publications have been received by the Public, whose approprobation, with that of your GRACE we shall always esteem, and be proud of acknowledge. [sic]

“In the hope, that our efforts to add to the Stock of NATIONAL MUSIC, will have a happy tendency, we send this Collection forth into the world; & will deem ourselves highly gratified to hear, that it meets with approving reception.

“We have the honour to be with profound respect, your Grace’s most obedient, much obliged, and very humble Servants.  Niel Gow & Sons.”

[At foot of p.1]: “As the Tunes now Published differ more or less from any Sett formerly published the Publishers have entered them in Stationers Hall agreeable to Act of Parliament.”

[NB the 3rd edition, ‘corrected and improved by Nath: Gow’, resets the words, corrects ‘proud of’ to ‘proud to’ and ‘honour’ to ‘honor’, but otherwise the dedication and footnote remain unaltered.]

[From the 2nd edition, GB-Gu Ca11-y.30, p.1].  Part the Third.  “To the Right Honourable THE COUNTESS of LOUDON and MOIRA.  This THIRD PART of the REPOSITORY of Scotch STRATHSPEYS, REELS, and JIGS, is humbly inscribed by the Publishers, as the only token in their power whereby to acknowledge the high estimation in which they hold the Patronage and good wishes of your Ladyshire,    AS they are proud to acknowledge the no-less distinguished Patronage and generous kindness at an early period conferred on their family by your late worthy illustrious Father, Enhanc’d as all these considerations are by your connection with a Nobleman the boast of his profession, who since his arrival in this Country have been most assiduously attentive to its welfare, and shewn a great particularity to its music.

“In giving this our Complete Repository to the Public it was our wish to conciliate and procure a conformity in the stile and manner of playing those National tunes and Dances, Having succeeded so far by our two first parts as to obtain the approbation of Amateurs, as well as of professional Musicians, WE now venture to submit to the Public this our third part of the Complete Repository, and we humbly trust our Endeavours to conciliate an uniformity in playing those tunes will soon be Established in every part of the Island.

“We have the honour to be with profound respect, your Ladyships much obliged, and devoted humble Servants.  Niel Gow & Son’s [sic]”

[At foot of p.1]: “As the Tunes now Published differ more or less from any Sett formerly published the Publishers have entered them in Stationers Hall agreeable to Act of Parliament.”

[NB the 3rd edition, ‘corrected and improved by Nath: Gow’, resets the words, and corrects ‘Son’s’ to ‘Sons’, but otherwise the dedication and footnote remain unaltered.]

[From the IMSLP 1st edition, GB-Gu Ca11-y.30, p.1].  Part Fourth.  TO THE NOBILITY AND GENTRY of SCOTLAND.  The Publishers of the FOURTH Part of the REPOSITORY of ORIGINAL SCOTS SLOW STRATHSPEYS and DANCES would be wanting in their respect to the NOBILITY and GENTRY, were they to omit the present opportunity of acknowledging their obligations to them for the very great encouragement the three former parts of the Repository met with, and of expressing their satisfaction on their Original Aim being obtained, namely, that of conformity being observed throughout the Island, by Amateurs, as well as Professional People, playing the same notes of every tune, without the confusion which prevailed previous to the appearance of the Repository, they trust that the present will be found in every respect equal to the former and hope to be gratified in seeing it favorably received.  [Signed] for Niel Gow & Sons [Nath Gow’s signature here]

[At foot of p.1]: “As the Sets of the old Tunes here given differ from those formerly published, and as this 4th Part not only contain many Ancient Airs that never before appeared but also a number of new Tunes Composed purposely for this work. – The Book is therefore entered in Stationers’ Hall agreeable to Act of Parliament.”

It’s worth noting that Nathaniel Gow was riding the same “conformity” hobby-horse with his Vocal Melodies of Scotland collection, too, with the first page talking of aiming for ‘Conformity in the playing of these Beautiful Simple Airs’.  Paradoxically, a rather fussy version of the Flowers of the Forest appears immediately underneath these words!