“England has no National Music”? Chappell set out to refute this!

In yesterday’s posting, I quoted from William Chappell’s Collection of National English Airs (1838-1840), which explained the motivation behind his first big collection.  Twenty years later, he published his Popular Music of the Olden Time, and he was by now even more determined to refute the allegation.  Here he is in the Introduction to PMOT:-

“I have been at some trouble to trace to its origin the assertion that the English have no national music.  It is extraordinary that such a report should have obtained credence, for England may safely challenge any nation not only to produce as much, but also to give the same satisfactory proofs of antiquity.  The report seems to have gained ground from the unsatisfactory selection of English airs in Dr Crotch’s Specimens of various Styles of Music; but the national music in that work was supplied by Malchair, a Spanish violin-player at Oxford, whose authority Crotch therein quotes.  It is perhaps not generally known that at the time of the publication Dr Crotch was but nineteen years of age.  No collection of English airs had at that time been made to guide Malchair, and he followed the dictum of Dr Burney in such passages as the following:-

“It is related by Giovanni Battista Donado that the Turks have a limited number of tunes … till the last century, it seems as if the number of our secular and popular melodies did not greatly exceed that of the Turks …”

“Again, in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream … Burney inverts the stage direction and adds [here Chappell quotes a very derogatory list of old English national instruments!] …

“Dr Burney’s History is one continuous misrepresentation of English music and musicians, only rendered plausible by misquotation of every kind.”

(PMOT, Introduction, vi-vii)

Chappell’s book is a delight to read, because it is so informative about the contemporary view of so many aspects of music history – even if (as I’m reliably informed) he has got his facts wrong about Malchair’s ethnicity and Crotch’s age!  Moreover, even on the very first page, he writes about his sources, emphasising the importance of the British Museum (now the British Library collection), and acknowledging that he was also granted permission to examine and make extracts from the Registers of the Stationers’ Company to assist him in dating the airs.  (He was also familiar with the Bodleian and Ashmolean Libraries, the Society of Antiquities, the public library in Cambridge, Cheetham Library, Lincoln’s Inn Library, Marsh’s Library and Trinity College Dublin’s, the Advocates Library in Edinburgh, University of Ghent, and this is just a quick overview, not mentioning the many private individuals that he networked with.)

In both Chappell’s books, he writes about the era of “merry England”.  The era can be taken to encompass the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, as is implicit in Ronald Hutton’s modern book, The rise and fall of merry England : the ritual year, 1400-1700 (2001).  Indeed, shortly after Chappell’s first collection appeared, George Daniel published Merrie England in the Olden Time (2 vols, 1842), which Chappell cited several times (inconsistently as “Merrie” AND “Merry” England) in PMOT, in a couple of instances specifically concerning the year 1691 .


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