English and Scottish Songs and Ballads from the XIX Century
Program notes by Brian Jeffery
This CD includes romantic theatre songs from England, Scottish songs arranged with charming guitar accompaniments by Matthias von Holst (Gustav Holst’s great-grandfather), and one of the most famous of the Irish melodies set by Thomas Moore.
The songs and ballads from early nineteenth century England are among the most appealing, the most easily approachable, of all songs for voice and guitar. They are not the same as what is often called the Victorian “drawing-room” ballad, which dates from the later part of the nineteenth century. These songs from early romanticism, composed before Victoria came to the throne in 1837, are subtly different, perhaps sturdier, less maudlin, and participating still in an eighteenth-century tradition.
Although they are often called “ballad” on their title-pages, they are not the same as the popular ballad of the folk tradition. Instead, they are art songs, that is to say original compositions by composers of this period. It would be true to say that the songs from which those on this CD have been selected were among the most popular forms of music of their day. Published in their thousands, they reached and touched most people, and their appeal was enormous. Their sentiments often still appeal to us, and songs of a very similar nature are still performed by singers with enormous success on stage and television. Sometimes their sentiments seem exaggerated in the context of today’s taste, but nevertheless most ballads are stories of love with a charming simplicity and a splendid melodic gift that can easily and gladly be surrendered to today. The best of them are works of art that, beyond any question, deserve to be taken seriously.
On this CD they are performed with guitar, and it is important to point out that the guitar arrangements played on this CD are the guitar arrangements published in their own day, not modern arrangements. These guitar accompaniments were made by professional guitarists, men such as Sola, Eulenstein, or Verini, and they were usually issued by the same publishers who brought out the versions with piano, and at the same time or within a year or so. We have no way of telling how many copies were printed. But over the last century and a half, between 1840 and our own times, the guitar sank in popularity while the piano maintained its position, with the result that the guitar versions were quite simply thrown away to the point that guitar music of the early nineteenth century in England is now rare. But from what has emerged, it had been possible to put together the present anthology. For singers and guitarists alike, it is an Aladdin’s cave of a repertory which until now has been completely unpublished in modern editions and which to most people was not even known to have existed, so that a CD of this music is most welcome.
The actual original form of most or perhaps all of these songs, was in fact neither with piano nor with guitar, but with orchestra, for they are theatre songs. They were most often first performed on a stage with orchestra, and that is the form in which the public would have first known them. “Sung with unbounded applause by Mr. or Mrs. X”, as it so often says on the title-pages, means sung with orchestral accompaniment, and often within the context of a stage play or entertainment. So when we think of a ballad of this kind, therefore, it is as a song performed on stage with orchestra that we should first think of it. For example, “The light of other days is faded” on this CD, is a song from the stage play The Maid of Artois with music by M.W. Balfe first performed in 1836 and later described as “the most popular song in England that our days have known”. On this CD, its original orchestral accompaniment has been arranged for the guitar by C.M. Sola.
Similarly with the other songs on this CD, in the days before sound recordings the publishers provided versions for voice with piano or guitar accompaniment so that the songs could be recreated in the drawing-room, and those versions with piano or guitar have survived, whereas the orchestral accompaniments are heard no more.
The biographies of the composers such as Balfe, Bishop, Moore, Barnett, Bayly, and Horn, are easily available in the standard reference books. An outline of the musical genre may be found in Music in Britain: The Romantic Age 1800-1914, edited by Nicholas Temperley, which appeared in 1981.
There follow seven Scottish songs from the collection of arrangements with guitar made by Matthias von Holst. Simple the guitar arrangements may be, but they seem to suit very well these Scottish songs, certainly seen by the musical public down in London as evidence of the characteristic Scottish popular tradition, in the age when the poems of Ossian were universally known.
After those English and Scottish songs, this CD also presents an Irish one: “The harp that once thro’ Tara's halls”, arranged by the Dubliner Thomas Moore. Again romantic, the song laments the passing of time and the loss of the greatness of the past.
The guitars used in England at that time were made by the Panormo family in London, by Lacote in Paris, and by very many other makers of similar models, some made in England and some imported, particularly from France. These guitars did not on the whole have the sharp treble of modern nylon-strung guitars, and accordingly it will be noticed that the accompaniments on this CD do not emphasize the treble as much as some modern accompaniments might do. But those Panormos and Lacotes usually carried better than many modern instruments and they gave a greater clarity in the inner voices.
The English songs on this CD are performed from the collection entitled English Romantic Songs and Ballads, selected and edited by Brian Jeffery and published by Tecla Editions (www.tecla.com). The Scottish ones come from the Selection of the most favorite Scottish melodies arranged by Matthias von Holst and published in a new edition again by Tecla Editions. “The harp that once thro’ Tara's halls” is performed here from Songs for voice and guitar selected and edited by Brian Jeffery and again published by Tecla
Editions. Brian Jeffery