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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: July 2017

14 - George Thomson

from Anne Hunter's life


The Edinburgh entrepreneur George Thomson had collected large numbers of folk songs in Scotland and Wales and commissioned some of the foremost composers of the time, including Haydn, Kozeluch, Pleyel and Beethoven, to write the accompaniments. Having found the Scottish verses rather coarse for contemporary ears, he cast around for new, more genteel versions; even Robert Burns was commissioned to write for him. What now seems a monstrous bowdlerization was much commended in the nineteenth century as an attempt at preservation and the results were published in many overlapping parts and editions from 1793 onwards. Volume 1 of Thomson's Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs (1801) included Anne's ‘Adieu ye Streams’ with music by Kozeluch, and her Queen Mary's Lamentation set by Haydn is in Volume 2 (1803); the words were not attributed to her and were probably taken from published anthologies.

Thomson's Select Collection of Original Welsh Airs (1809–17) was rather different. Marjorie Rycroft has pointed out that he had collected the melodies he had heard played by two blind Welsh harpists as well as from various published collections, in particular Edward Jones’ Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards (1794). However, there were no words to go with the music so Thomson commissioned various poets, Joanna Baillie and Anne Hunter among them, to supply English verses. His approach to Anne was made through Joanna and in February 1804 Joanna wrote to him that Anne was happy to accede to his request, adding, ‘Mrs Hunter has sent you hers set to music, and an additional air & words, which I believe her note will inform you of ’. A long correspondence followed, with Anne sending him packets of verses from time to time, nineteen in all, for his consideration. His instructions to Anne were often quite prescriptive: he would send her his own doggerel verses for a particular piece of music, correct in terms of metre, length and tone, for her to replace with a more poetic version. Some of the poems that Anne produced are accompanied by scholarly notes that may have been added by Thomson, but are more probably the result of her own researches.

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The Life and Poems of Anne Hunter
  • Online ISBN: 9781781388464
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