The aim of this Royal Society of Edinburgh funded network is to explore and map the area of national song culture in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales during the period 1750-1850. The term ‘Romantic’ is widened here from the usual literary term meaning the period 1780-1830 and the musicological term meaning the period 1820-1900. By choosing the century 1750 to 1850 we are covering a time when printed song established itself and developed significantly, as the practice of performing songs at home became more commonplace. By ‘Song’ we are referring particularly to published song texts with music, thus focusing on how editors and publishers were encouraging both professional and amateur performance of these songs. The project is not concerned with the exciting and rich field of demotic song culture and popular cheap print of songs, but rather with the growing middle-class consumption of songs.
At this time of great political upheaval, the four nations of the British Isles (and many European nations) were actively collecting and disseminating what was presented to the public as ‘National Song’. While work has been done on some individual writers, composers and editors/publishers, there is still considerable confusion about the meaning of the term ‘National Song’ and little understanding of the relationships between the living song cultures of the British nations during this time.
Bringing together scholars working in literature and language, musicology, history, history of the book, and performance history, the network will map the field bibliographically, exploring where these songs were published and performed and will begin to establish how they shaped public perceptions of the different national cultures of the British Isles.
The project includes a number of network meetings and performance events in London and Glasgow and is supporting a small research project which runs from March 2017 until the Spring of 2019. We are creating an interactive website featuring useful reading lists and blogs tracking the ongoing research interests of our network members. We are also creating a little series of ‘song stories’ from each nation, articulating the popularity and the often-complex biographies of popular songs performed during the century.
Featured image: Joseph Ritson; A select collection of English songs, with their original airs: and a historical essay on the origin and progress of national song; London; 1813: 187. By permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.