Our ancient national airs: Scottish song collecting c.1760-1888

McAulay, Karen E. (2009) Our ancient national airs: Scottish song collecting c.1760-1888. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis explores the musical dimension of Scottish song-collecting between the years c.1760 and 1888. The collections under investigation reflect the general cultural influences that bear on their compilers, starting with those associated with what we now call the Scottish Enlightenment, and continuing with those we associated with developing nineteenth-century romanticism. Building upon the work of Harker on the concept of ‘fakesong’, and of Gelbart on the developing idea of ‘folk’ versus ‘art’ music, I suggest that the sub-title of James Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum, ‘Our Ancient National Airs’, has implications which can be traced throughout this period.

The nature of the finished collections tells us much about editorial decisions, value-judgements, and intended audiences. The prefaces, other published writings and surviving correspondence have been especially informative.

Parallels can be traced between Joseph and Patrick MacDonald’s A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs, and the Ossian works of James Macpherson, embodying an urge to record and preserve the heritage of Highland Scotland’s primitive past. The collaborations of Robert Burns with James Johnson and George Thomson, and the English Joseph Ritson’s Scotish Song, similarly reflect the antiquarian ‘museum’ mentality. However, the drive to record and codify is tempered by Burns’s and Thomson’s wish simultaneously to improve and polish.

The ‘discovery’ of the Highlands as a tourist destination, and the appeal of its primitive history, prompted a substantial body of literature, and Alexander Campbell’s output particularly exemplifies this, but the sense of place was as much a motivator for private collectors. It can also be demonstrated that later song-collectors, such as Robert Archibald Smith, were as much motivated to create and improve the repertoire, as were James Hogg and his literary peers.

A passion for domestic music-making, and an increased wish to educate and inform, is evidenced in song-collections by George Farquhar Graham, Finlay Dun and John Thomson, but most significantly, this thesis demonstrates a resurgence of cultural nationalism, driven as much by William Chappell’s anxiety to define and defend the English repertoire, as by Andrew Wighton’s and James Davies’ passion for the Scottish, with Graham and Laing caught in the crossfire.

Thus, even if ‘Our Ancient National Airs’ appeared at different times in different kinds of musical setting, and for differing purposes, it can clearly be demonstrated that published Scottish song-collections of this period can, indeed, be taken to reflect a wider range of contemporary cultural trends than has hitherto been recognised.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Scottish song, Scottish song collectors, Scottish song tunes, cultural nationalism, fakery, authenticity, accompaniment, Joseph MacDonald, Patrick MacDonald, James Macpherson, James Johnson, Robert Burns, Joseph Ritson, Alexander Campbell, Robert Archibald Smith, James Hogg, George Farquhar Graham, David Laing, Finlay Dun, Andrew Wighton, William Chappell, 18th century music, 19th century music, Scottish Highlands and Islands, Scottish Lowlands, Scottish Borders
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Music
Supervisor's Name: Edwards, Dr. Warwick
Date of Award: 2009
Depositing User: Mrs Karen E. McAulay
Unique ID: glathesis:2009-1242
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 12 Jan 2010
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:36
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/1242

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