[lit-ideas] Scotch Songs -- Dedicated to Ritchie

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 6 Jan 2013 09:38:19 -0500 (EST)

I've been reading a book by D. Scott, "The Singing Bourgeois". The title is 
 misleading. The subtitle is about the drawing room (withdrawing room, not 
the  room to DRAW) or parlour songs. Some of them sound like gems, so I'm 
sharing  this with the Scotch on the list, including Ritchie.
--- abridged from Scott (Ashgate, Hampshire).
Our main concern is Scotland and, to a lesser extent, Ireland. Scotland is  
important because it occupied a special place in the fascination of the  
Victorian bourgeoisie with the Celt's culture and environment. 
The debt owed  to Scotland by the Romantic movement has long been 

A frequently quoted musical example of this debt is Mendelssohn's  overture 
The Hebrides (1830). 
Queen Victoria's first visit to Scotland was  in 1842, and then, with the 
development of rail travel, so popular did it become  among the middle class 
that, in 1866 alone, Thomas Cook catered for 40,000  tourists. 
It became an escapist world of romance to the industrial  bourgeois; even 
if not all of them went as far as the mill-owning Bullough  family from 
Lancashire, who bought the Isle of Rhum in 1888, built a castle  there (paying 
workmen an extra shilling a week to wear kilts!), and paid  £2000 for an 
organ to be installed in it. 
Meanwhile, Highlanders were  emigrating, some as a result of the blight 
which destroyed the potato crop in  Sutherland in the 1840s (those who stayed 
were set to work building 'destitution  roads'), and others driven out 
because they could not afford to remain once the  leases on their tenancies 
expired and Lowland farmers competed for the land in  order to place profitable 
Cheviot sheep there. 
The Highlands were in the  hands of a few vast landowners, and what was not 
leased out to farmers was  treated as a huge recreation park. 

Deer stalking was perhaps the favourite pastime among wealthy Highland  
landlords and their business friends, many of whom would have made their  
fortunes selling the new whisky, blended from Lowland grain (mostly unmalted)  
and Highland malt. 
This state of affairs did not continue for the whole  century: the Highland 
Land League was formed in 1882, and by 1886 crofters had  won security of 
However, even at the outbreak of the Great War the  land question and the 
problems of Highlanders had still not been resolved. 

Such, then, is the background against which the Victorian image of the  
romantic tartan-clad Highlander must be viewed; that image owed much to Scott's 
 Waverley Novels and little to contemporary realities.
Either writing verse to  Scottish airs contemporaneously with Burns, or 
following in his immediate  footsteps, like Nairne, Hogg, and Scott, were 
dozens of others. 
Among the  most prominent were 

Mrs Grant of Corran (1745-1814)
Hector MacNeill  (1746-1818)
Susanna Blamire (1747-94)
Mrs Grant of Laggan  (1755-1838)
Joanna Baillie (1764-1851)
William Smyth (1766-1849), and  
Sir Alexander Boswell (1775-1822). 

Some, like the last three, were prepared to set verse to a variety of  
Celtic airs, Irish and Welsh as well as Scottish, while the market for them  
Furthermore, Joanna Baillie, although born in Scotland, spent most  other 
life in Hampstead (she did not even visit Scotland once in the last thirty  
years other life), and William Smyth was a Liverpudlian who, from 1807 till 
his  death, occupied the chair as Professor of Modern History at the 
University of  Cambridge.
Scotch songs were great favourites in the early Victorian drawing  room and 
were still very much the rage in the 1850s, when singers like Mr Wilson  
and Mme Sainton-Dolby introduced them into their concerts. 
Just what made  them so much admired may be gleaned from an article printed 
in Eliza Cook's  Journal in 1852, which picks out characteristic features 
for approval: they are  morally healthy in advocating contentment with one's 

They abound in pictures of domestic peace and comfort; and they show  joy 
in the beauties of nature. 
Scottish songs are felt to be  non-elitist.
The writers of the words for the songs - the Scottish poets -  have written 
them for the people - for the nation - for the many - not for the  few.
The music is thought to demonstrate honest heart-felt expression, but it  
has to be considered lacking in refinement.
Scotch songs are not pretty -- in  the Italian sense of 'pretty'. 
Though they have been the rage in  drawing-rooms, they are yet born of the 
They were not meant to be  merely ornamental; they were the growth of 
simple taste, of true feeling, often  of intense passion. 

The suggestion is that the Scottish people are a homogeneous mass, that  
their songs spring from the people and are for the people, hence they have a  
universal appeal.
Indeed, the writer goes on to advise Tennyson to be less  classical and 
strive for universality. 
The organic Scottish society was, of  course, a myth, and Scottish song 
which was not actually bourgeois in origin  still only reached the drawing room 
after bourgeois mediation. 
By 1852, not  only were most of the texts of Scottish songs the product of t
he Lowland middle  class, or members of the old Scottish aristocracy with a 
sentimental attachment  to Jacobitism, but many tunes had been freshly 
composed or modernized. 
The  extent of this rewriting may not have been obvious to the writer 
quoted above,  because in the first half of the nineteenth century any song 
which was  written by a woman would be published without attribution. 
Therefore, anyone  keen to be reassured of the naturalness of bourgeois 
values might be ready to  believe that these anonymous songs had sprung from 
untutored Scottish peasants.  
There was a ladies' musical society in Edinburgh which encouraged anonymous 
Lady Nairne was a leading member.

It was mentioned in the previous chapter that Felicia Hemans played a  key 
role in the emergence of women songwriters into the drawing-room ballad  
Two features of her work should be stressed, since they mark her out  from 
the Edinburgh ladies.
Felicia Hemans would rather be seen dead than  writing in dialect.
Second, she did not publish anonymously. 
Anonymity  was respectable (because modest) but worked against the economic 
interest of  women -- notably Felicia Hemans.

Lady John Scott, née Alicia Spottiswoode (1810-1900) was composer and  
author of several successful ballads, but because she remained anonymous until  
the mid-1850s her influence on other women was slight compared with that of  
Caroline Norton and Maria Lindsay. 
Also it meant that, because she had no  personal reputation, anything she 
did outside the realm of Scotch song was  liable to be overlooked. 
One of her most well-known songs today, 'Think on  Me', a straightforward 
Bayly-style drawing-room ballad, was first published ten  years after her 
Before turning to Alicia Scott's output, there is an  intermediate stage in 
the assimilation of Scottish song into English bourgeois  culture which 
needs to be considered. 
Stage one was the writing of new or  improved verses to old airs; but many 
were of the opinion that these airs were  not pretty long before the writer 
in Eliza Cook's Journal and regarded this as a  fault.
Major keys were the norm for genteel music.

Yet a Scotch tune may be modal (Skirven's 'Johnnie Cope' and Burns'  
'Highland Mary').
Or a Scotch song have a pentatonic shape which shifted  ambiguously between 
major and relative minor (Blamire's 'What Ails This Heart o'  Mine' and 
MacNeill's 'Come Under My Plaidie').
Or the melody might pivot more  strongly around the dominant than the tonic 
(Nairne's 'The Land o' the Leal' and  Glen's 'Wae's Me for Prince 
It is, of course, unhistorical to  talk of keys when discussing the older 
Scottish tunes.
Nevertheless, in the  drawing room those tunes would have been perceived 
against a background of music  with which the Victorian middle class was 

Hence, rather than accept them on their own terms, there was a tendency  to 
see the tunes as crudely groping after the refinement of the classical key  
The first thing that could be done to improve matters would be to  provide 
classical harmonies and decorate the melody with classical  ornamentation. 
Here is a mid-century version of the opening of a pentatonic  Gaelic air, 
'Crodh Chailein' it is from Mrs Grant of Laggan's song 'Flora to  Colin', a 
translation of the Gaelic original.
Burns reused this tune for 'My  Heart's in the Highlands'.
It will be seen that the melodic decoration is  designed around the concept 
of underlying harmonies, except for the trill in the  penultimate bar, and 
that calls for classical vocal technique. 
Compare this  version of the tune with the way it might be tackled by 
someone playing an  instrument with a drone accompaniment. 

Consider the first four bars with some typical Highland bagpipe  ornaments.
Now, in complete contrast, it would be difficult to find harmonies  to suit 
the grace notes.
Sometimes the whole tune was modernized, as was 'The  Flowers of the 
Forest' by Mrs Cockburn.
Very soon there was an urge to  compose fresh tunes to those songs which 
presently consisted of old tune and  fresh words. 
An early example of this is the Rev. William Leeves' setting  of'Auld Robin 
Gray', published in 1812. 
The words were by Lady Anne Barnard,  née Lindsay (1750-1825). the eldest 
daughter of the fifth Earl of Balcarras.  
Living in Fifeshire, but spending winters in town, as was customary among  
the aristocracy, Lindsay was probably encouraged to try her hand at a Scotch 
 song as a result of mingling in Edinburgh society. 
However, like all lady  songwriters, Lindsay kept her authorship a secret. 
Lindsay finally confessed  to writing it in a letter sent to Walter Scott 
two years before her death. 
A  Captain Hall relates that Scott told guests at his home in 1825 that, 
when Anne  Lindsay first heard the tune, it was accompanied by words of no 
great delicacy,  whatever their antiquity might be.
Lindsay's letter to Scott, dated 8 July  1823, declares that she longed to 
sing the tune to different words,'and give its  plaintive tones some little 
history of virtuous distress in humble life, such as  might suit it.
Written in 1771, 'Auld Robin Gray' became such a drawing-room  favourite 
that in 1780 it formed the basis of an entire ballad opera, "William  and 
Lucy", complete with new happy ending).

However suited Anne Lindsay's words were meant to be to the plaintive  
tones of the tune, the old modal melody was immediately banished from the  
drawing room when Leeves' version became available. 
Today, the song  invariably begins at the second stanza ('Young Jamie lo'd 
me weel'), since  Leeves began his setting with a recitative. 
Leeves relies on classical  procedures for expressive effect, such as the 
contrast of major and minor key,  and the use of chromaticism.
Leeves's Scottish flavouring is limited to one  or two snap rhythms. 
Mrs Gibson of Edinburgh (1786—1838) must have  experienced similar feelings 
to Leeves when she contemplated the gloomy minor  melody which accompanied 
Byron's poem 'Lochnagar' (from Hours of Idleness,  1807).

Her bright and mellifluous alternative soon became a favourite  
drawing-room tenor song. 
Although a dubious tribute to 'dark Lochnagar', it  creates a Scottish 
atmosphere by plentiful use of pentatonic shapes.
Thus,  the foundation was laid for Alicia Scott to both write and compose 
original  Scottish songs.
Her best-known song is 'Annie Laurie', which consists of two  stanzas 
rewritten from an earlier song and a third stanza other own, all set to  her 
She found the words in "The Songs of Scotland" (1825), edited  by Allan 
Cunningham, but felt they were in need of 'improvement'. 

A comparison of the original second stanza with her version gives an  
insight into drawing-room propriety.
she's backit like a peacock, 
she's  breastit like a swan
she's jimp about the middle 
her waist ye well may  span
her waist ye well may span
& she has a rolling eye
& for  bonnie Annie Laurie 
I'd lay down my head and die
her brow is like the  snaw-drift
her throat is like the swan
her face it is the fairest
that  e'er the sun shone on
that e'er the sun shone on
& dark blue is her  e'e
& for bonnie Annie Laurie
I'd lay me doune and dee. 

It is noteworthy that Lady Scott's version sounds a great deal more  
Scottish than the original.
But her attachment to the Lallans dialect derives  from her sentimental 
Jacobitism rather than an interest in ordinary Scottish  people, so expressions 
which seem to her vulgar, like 'backit', 'breastit', and  'jimp about the 
middle' are dropped. 
For the latter she substitutes 'Her  face it is the fairest', but in the 
1854 version she forgoes her alliteration in  order to translate the English 
'fairest' as the Scottish 'bonniest'. 
It is a  telling change.
Indeed, throughout the Scottish songs for which she provided  texts, 
Lallans is treated merely as a vocabulary of romantic words, rather than  a 
dialect with its own syntax. 
Musically 'Annie Laurie' is typical of her  style.
It is a simple strophic song which sets the words syllabically to a  sixtee
n-bar diatonic melody decorated with an occasional 'Scotch snap'. 
The  word pretty would not be inappropriate as a description of its 
elegantly crafted  tune. Its tonality is unambiguously major, and its musical 
tensions rely on  changes of harmony.
For example, the tension on the word 'bonnie' in the  first line, 
'Maxwelton braes are bonnie'. 
Lady Scott used to sing her songs  to a harp accompaniment, though she 
seldom wrote down anything but the  melody.

Lady John Scott's songs were published anonymously in arrangements by  
'Annie Laurie' first appeared with an accompaniment by Finlay Dun in  The 
Vocal Melodies of Scotland, volume 3, 1838, published by Paterson and Roy,  
It has been noted that it was customary for women songwriters to  remain 
anonymous at this time, whether they had written words, music, or both.  
As the ballad market began to open up for women in the mid-century,  
attribution was no longer thought immodest. 
When Lady Nairne died in 1845,  and her authorship of songs was 
acknowledged, the situation must have eased a  little. 
Lady Scott was first given credit as a songwriter when she published  six 
songs in 1854 for the benefit of the wives and families of soldiers who had  
been sent to Crimea (the songs included 'Annie Laurie' and 'Katherine 
A song often attributed to her is 'Loch  Lomond'.

owever, its earliest known appearance is in W. Christie's Traditional  
Ballad Airs, volume 1, 1876. 
Its largely pentatonic character seems  stylistically unlike Scott, and 
lends credibility to the argument that it is a  modern version of'Robin 
Cushie', first printed in McGibbon's Scots Tunes Book of  1742. 
The words are another possibility, since they are very much in her  
English-with-a-Scottish-accent style. 
This might also serve as an  appropriate description other music. 
She embraces the major key world of the  drawing room, avoiding 
'antiquated' modality (the musically unpalatable  equivalent of words like 
'breastit'?), and applying dabs of regional colour with  the odd pentatonic 
turn of 
phrase and snap rhythm.
It may have been noticed that, with the exception of'Crodh Chailein'  
('Colin's Cattle'), all the Scottish songs discussed so far have been Lowland  
Some Gaelic songs were published in the early nineteenth century:  'Crodh 
Chailein' appeared in Fraser's Airs Peculiar to the Scottish Highlands  
(1816), and another all-Gaelic collection was Alex Campbell's Albyn's 
which came out in two volumes (1816-18). 
Gaelic songwriters, a large  proportion of whom, incidentally, were women, 
continued to produce new songs  throughout the century. Some even wrote new 
words to old tunes, as had happened  with Lowland songs; 'An-t-Eilean 
Muileach' ('The Isle of Mull'), penned by a  homesick Dugald MacPhail in 
Newcastle, is an example. Gaelic music divides not  into 'serious' and 
'popular' but 
into big (ceol mor) and small (ceol beag).  
The absence of'high' and 'low' categories reflects the socio-economic basis 
 of Gaelic society, which was comprised of clan communities led by chiefs, 
and  kept in existence by subsistence agriculture (based on cattle) and, in 
the case  of some clans, fishing. 

There were inequalities of wealth and status within the clan, but it  saw 
itself as a cohesive whole. Little Gaelic song entered the drawing room  
because in a capitalist society art is part of leisure, but to the Highlanders  
art was a part of work as well, and their types of song reflect this — 
waulking  songs (three speeds, depending on the weight of the cloth), nurses' 
songs,  milking songs, rowing songs, etc. 
Even where a Gaelic song might be thought  to have a universal appeal - 
laments for lost loved ones, such as Christina  Fergusson's lament for William 
Chisholm, or songs of emigration, such as 'Gur  Moch Rinn Mi Dusgadh' 
('Early Did I Awaken') - the authentic voice of the Gael  was rejected in 
of an invented voice (for example, C. Mackay's 'The  Highland Emigrant' of 
Eventually Gaelic song was to find a form  suitable for drawing-room 
consumption this century, mainly owing to the  mediations of Marjorie 
Kennedy-Fraser and the interest among the English middle  class in 'Celtic 

The general opinion in the mid-nineteenth century was that Gaelic  culture 
was crude and unimportant.
The Highlanders, who inhabit the  mountainous and picturesque part of 
Scotland, have added very little to its  stores of national music, except a few 
wild pibrochs, befitting the uncouth  instrument on which they are usually 
played — the Highland bagpipe.
An  invented culture filled the gap created by ignorance of the 
Highlander's  culture. 
Highland dress, for instance, was no longer regarded as subversive;  but, 
in order that it might fit in with the construction of a romantic Highland  
mythology, dozens of colourful fraud tartans were produced. 
Queen Victoria's  desire for a personal piper owed more to Highland romance 
than to an interest in  piobaireachd. 

The changes in pipe music illustrate how Gaelic culture was part  
marginalized and part assimilated in the nineteenth century. Angus Mackay, 
Victoria's first piper, was an authority on the great music (ceol mor) of the  
Highland bagpipe, but by the 1880s the craze for the 'competition march' had 
 marginalized this music. 
The official recognition given to pipers by the War  Office in 1854 acted 
as a stimulus to the formation of pipe bands, and they, in  turn, developed a 
repertoire distinct from that of the solo Highland piper (who  originally 
played only piobaireachd or jigs).
Only when the socio-economic  foundation of Gaelic communities was being 
almost everywhere undermined (even  Lewis found itself host to British 
Aluminium in 1896) was there a rush to  document and preserve their 
According to John Blackie,  who initiated the Gaelic mod, there is evidence 
in 1885 of enlarged public  sympathy in welcoming Gaelic song, although a 
great army of tourists and  travellers still comes to Scotland and thinks no 
more of inquiring into the  social conditions of Highlanders than they would 
into the economy of a few  sparrows on the roadside.

Part of the interest in Gaelic culture was motivated by an interest  
inherited from German theorists of Volkslied; this is shown by the use of terms 
like 'folksong' and 'popular song'.
The later term 'folk-song' is not  identical to Volkslied, since the latter 
did not necessarily imply  anonymity).
While Gaelic culture in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland  managed to 
survive the nineteenth century in an attenuated form, the Gaelic  culture of 
Ireland was all but wiped out. 
This was a result of the changes  in social relations which followed on the 
heels of the political defeats of the  late eighteenth century.
Bunting had collected the music of an almost defunct  bardic tradition, 
which he published in three collections in 1796, 1809, and  1840. 
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