In the late 18th and early 19th, paratext in Scottish song and dance collections quite often object to “Italian” influences in music. There’s the perception that “Italian” is synonymous with fussy, arty, classical music and not quite what the compilers expected in a Scottish music anthology. Things were different in earlier days. Here’s Francis Barsanti (Francesco) circa 1742, in A Collection of Old Scots Tunes, With the Bass for Violoncello or harpsichord. Set and most humbly Dedicated to the Right Honourable The Lady Erskine. (Sadly, his successors would probably have dismissed it as just another Italianate, Baroque collection!)
Having discovered, in several ancient Scots tunes, an elegance and variety of harmony equal to the compositions of the most celebrated masters of those times; at the desire of several gentlemen of taste, I applied myself to do justice to those ancient compositions, by a proper and natural bass to each tune, with the strictest regard to the tune itself, and without any alteration of the tune to accommodate it to the bass. As I flatter myself that this attempt to revive the taste of our ancestors will not be disagreeable, I have submitted the same to the judgment of the Publick, that in case this should have the good fortune to please, I may be encouraged to further attempts of the same kind.
One of the wonderful things about Scottish music research is that you never know quite what will come up next. Sitting in Glasgow University Library’s Special Collections examining a heap of historic fiddle tunebooks, who would have thought we’d stumble across a whole conference about the hornpipe (it took place in 1993 and included a great paper by Scottish dance expert Joan Flett); an Australian thesis on circus music (Kim Baston, La Trobe University); or a piece of music for harp and union pipes – which led us to Nicholas Carolan’s paper on an Irish bellows piper called Denis Courtney. (The story goes back to 1788, and was interesting because Courtney himself was named in the fiddle book that we were examining.)
Being a naturally helpful, sharing kind of research assistant, I thought I’d share these very useful and informative links with followers of the Bass Culture blog. You can find them all here on my Diigo Bass Culture list.
Meanwhile, Principal Investigator Dr McGuinness shared with me an absolute gift of a scan – the preface to an eighteenth century collection called The Caledonian Muse. Knowing how very much I enjoy prefaces – to the extent that I recently asked the Oxford English Dictionary why they hadn’t yet added the word ‘paratext’ to their dictionary – I am about to start transcribing this preface to see if I can date it. Very intriguing!