Joseph Haydn - Folksong Arrangements of Scottish and Welsh Songs

Arrangements of Scottish, and later Welsh and Irish, folksongs for voice and accompaniment were very popular in Scotland and England around 1800. The number of publications of collections of such arrangements had increased rapidly towards the end of the 18th century. Some publishers had even been able to commission prominent European composers to write arrangements for their collections. The fact that composers such as Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Carl Maria von Weber were more than happy to arrange Scottish songs shows how prestigious such work was - and what high fees could be commanded! Haydn was the first of these important composers from the Continent to write folksong arrangements for the British market. Between 1791 and 1804 he composed a total of over 400 for George Thomson, the Edinburgh folksong collector, and for two publishers, William Napier in London and William Whyte in Edinburgh.

The reason why the song arrangements have so far remained in the shadow of the other late works and only very few of them have been performed, is largely because only a very small number of them was available in new editions. Only since the year 2005 the song arrangements are available in the complete edition of Haydn’s works, Joseph Haydn Werke, edited by the Joseph Haydn Institut in Cologne and published by G. Henle in Munich:

Joseph Haydn: Volksliedbearbeitungen Nr. 1–100
Schottische Lieder für William Napier, hrsg. von Karl Geiringer,
München-Duisburg 1961 (Joseph Haydn Werke, Reihe XXXII, Band 1)

Joseph Haydn: Volksliedberabeitungen Nr. 101–150.
Schottische Lieder für William Napier, hrsg. von Andreas Friesenhagen,
München 2001 (Joseph Haydn Werke, Reihe XXXII, Band 2)

Joseph Haydn: Volksliedbearbeitungen Nr. 151–268,
Schottische Lieder für George Thomson, hrsg. von Marjorie Rycroft in Verbindung mit Warwick Edwards und Kirsteen McCue,
München 2001 (Joseph Haydn Werke, Reihe XXXII, Band 3)

Joseph Haydn: Volksliedbearbeitungen Nr. 269–364,
Schottische und walisische Lieder für George Thomson, hrsg. von Marjorie Rycroft in Verbindung mit Warwick Edwards und Kirsteen McCue,
München 2004 (Joseph Haydn Werke, Reihe XXXII, Band 4)

Joseph Haydn: Volksliedbearbeitungen Nr. 365–429,
Schottische Lieder für William Whyte, hrsg. von Andreas Friesenhagen in Verbindung mit Egbert Hiller,
München 2005 (Joseph Haydn Werke, Reihe XXXII, Band 5).

Haydn’s Arrangements of Scottish Songs for William Napier

The 150 songs which Haydn composed under commission for William Napier belong chronologically to the beginning of this undertaking. Haydn finished 100 of these arrangements during his first stay in England, from 1791 to 1792, and a further 50 during his next stay there, from 1794 to 1795. The songs were published in 1792 and 1795 as the second and third volumes respectively of Napier’s collection, “A Selection of Original Scots Songs in Three Parts”. (Haydn had not contributed to the first volume, which had been published in 1790 under a slightly different title). All the songs are for voice with violin obligato and figured bass.

The way in which no specific instruments are mentioned is entirely compatible with the fact that these songs were intended for amateur music in the home. The figured bass throughout all the songs (although it is not certain that this was done entirely by Haydn himself) and some notes in the bass part, such as ”Pizzicato“ and “Coll’arco” would tend to indicate that they were intended for a keyboard instrument and a string instrument (cello). Haydn did not write instrumental introductions and codas, so-called “Symphonies”, for his arrangements for Napier. These were to become regular additions to the actual song arrangements which Haydn wrote for the collections put together by Napier’s “successors”, Thomson and Whyte. However, according to the information which Napier gives in his foreword to the first volume of the collection, such introductions and codas can be improvised by the musicians, based on the song melody.

William Napier (?1740 - 1812) was actually from Scotland, but had lived in London since 1765 as a violinist, playing, among other engagements, with King George III’s private orchestra and the orchestras of the “Professional Concerts” and the “Academy of Ancient Music”. From the end of the 1770s on, he established his own concert series in the “Thatched House Tavern” in St. James’s Street. In the meantime he had also set up a music shop and adjoining publishing house.Towards the end of the 1780s the business suffered greatly, and in the middle of 1791 Napier declared bankruptcy and was even threatened with imprisonment. It is at this point that Joseph Haydn appears on the scene. Haydn had been living in England since the beginning of 1791 as “Composer in Residence” for “Salomon’s Concerts”, the concert series put on by Johann Peter Salomon, who originally hailed from Bonn. Napier was obviously one of the London musicians whom Haydn met during his stay in London. To help the publisher out of his financial difficulties, Haydn wrote a few arrangements of Scottish folksongs for him. At least, this is roughly what the only sources for this story, Haydn’s earliest biographers, Georg August Griesinger and Albert Christoph Dies, reported. Griesinger’s “Biographical Notes in Joseph Haydn” (1810), for example, states: “Nepire, an English sheet music shopkeeper, had twelve children, and was threatened with prison on account of his debts. Haydn arranged for him a complete hundred Scottish songs in the modern style, with bass accompaniment and violin […]. These songs were sold so quickly that Nepire was saved from his money difficulties […].”

The volume with Haydn’s arrangements, which was published in June 1792, does indeed seem to have helped solve the publisher’s problems. Two years later, during Haydn’s second stay in England, the composer and the publisher continued their cooperation. With new arrangements in the same style as the first hundred, they hoped to match the success of their first joint publication. Volume 3 of Napier’s collection was intended to contain 100 songs, like the one before. However, the number remained at 50 arrangements, which were finally published in July 1795.

Since, apart from one autograph fragment for one of the songs, no sources other than Napier’s editions exist, questions about exact dates, production methods and any possible divergences between the original and the published form of the arrangements must remain unanswered. It is also not known in which form Napier provided the composer with the songs, whether he gave Haydn only the melodies, or also the title and even the text of the songs. (Haydn received only the melodies from Thomson and Whyte, but no texts). Napier took the songs mainly from the published volumes of the “Scots Musical Museum”, a collection of Scottish folk poetry with the corresponding melodies, which was published in six volumes between 1787 and 1803. The “Museum” contains a total of six hundred Scottish songs, and was thus the largest and most complete collection of its kind at the time. A large number of the melodies which Haydn arranged for Napier is contained in the “Museum”. Haydn, of course, goes in his arrangements far beyond his sources and makes a small masterpiece out of each song, all the while paying reverence to the necessary simplicity of the genre.

Andreas Friesenhagen, Joseph Haydn Institute, Cologne © 2008
(Translation Susan Doering)

Joseph Haydn’s ‘Symphonies and Accompaniments’ to George Thomson’s Original Scottish Airs

George Thomson (1757-1851), ‘friend of Robert Burns’, amateur musician, folksong collector, editor and publisher, lived and worked in Edinburgh. By profession he was Clerk toThe Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Art and Manufactures in Scotland, a post that he held for almost 60 years. Throughout his long life he devoted his spare time, energy and money towards collecting and publishing Scottish, Welsh and Irish Airs, largely because he considered all previous publications, including Napier’s, to be ‘defective and exceptionable’. His aim was ‘to furnish a Collection of all the fine Airs, both of the plaintive and lively kind, unmixed with trifling and inferior ones; to obtain the most suitable and finished Accompaniments, with the addition of characteristic Symphonies, to introduce and conclude each Air; and to substitute congenial and interesting Songs [poetic verses], every way worthy of the Music’.

To this end he commissioned the best European composers of the day (Pleyel, Kozeluch, Haydn, Beethoven, Hummel and Weber) to write ‘Symphonies and Accompaniments’ for violin, cello and piano; Scottish poets (Joanna Baillie, Robert Burns, Alexander Boswell, Anne Grant, Anne Hunter, Hector Macneil, Walter Scott) to write new verses; and artists and engravers (Thomas Stothard, Paton Thomson) to create beautiful frontispieces for his handsome folio volumes. This was a unique and ambitious project which occupied Thomson for over 50 years, in the course of which he published three Collections – six volumes of Scottish Airs (1793-1841), three volumes of Welsh Airs (1809, 1811, 1817) and two volumes of Irish Airs (1814, 1816) – more than 600 songs in total.

His collaboration with Haydn, who contributed almost exclusively to the Scottish and Welsh Collections, began on 30 November 1799. Having already published four Sets (or Books) of arrangements by Ignaz Pleyel (32 songs) and Leopold Kozeluch (68 songs), Thomson approached Haydn through Alexander Straton, Secretary to the British Legation in Vienna. Thomson wrote:
‘I beg leave to commit the inclosed packet for Haydn to your friendly care; it may be sent as soon as you find it convenient. I am …. anxious that he should do the Symphonies & accompaniments to the thirty songs………. I have no reason to think he will scruple to do them, but should it be otherwise, you will oblige me inexpressibly by saying whatever you conceive is likely to produce compliance; and if necessary you may consent for me to give him a few more Ducats than what I have offered, only, he must not speak of what he gets. I have occasion to know that he charged a London musicseller [William Napier] for composing accompaniments but half the sum offered by me. I do not expect he will do the accompaniments better than Kozeluch; that is scarcely possible, but in the Symphonies, Haydn will be great & original; beside this will afford that variety in the work which is so desireable. When his name is added to those of Pleyel and Kozeluch, the Scottish melodies can boast of being harmonized by the three greatest luminaries of modern music. I beseech you therefore, my good Sir to do what is in your power to enlist Haydn for me, on the supposition that he will take two ducats for each Air..……………. ’

Haydn agreed to the terms, and between 18 June 1800 and 30 October 1804 he sent Thomson a total of 208 songs and 6 sets of variations. Haydn and Thomson never met. Nonetheless they enjoyed a warm, friendly correspondence, addressing each other as ‘stimatissimo Amico’ or ‘Mio amico caro’. Initially their correspondence was conducted through the secretariat of the British Embassy in Vienna. From 1801 they began exchanging personal hand-written letters, usually in Italian. Enclosed with the letters were the music manuscripts. These, with the exception ofThe blue bell of Scotland(JHW 263), were not autographs but neat copies in the hand of Johann Elssler or another of Haydn’s trusted copyists. The manuscripts indicate that Thomson must have given Haydn the airs in a numbered sequence – no title and no words, just the melody along withan indication of the tempo and possibly the character of the air. It is almost certain that Thomson selected his airs from 18th-century song collections such asOrpheus Caledonius(1733), a copy of which he is known to have possessed, andThe Scots Musical Museum(1787-1803), whose chief contributor until his death in 1796, was Robert Burns.

Although he was given neither title nor text, Haydn appears to have had an innate understanding of the nature and character of the Scottish melodies. He alone was able to compose arrangements that delighted Thomson. Perhaps Haydn’s visits to London had given him an appreciation for the taste and musical ability of the British amateurs for whom Thomson intended his volumes. Certainly Thomson was aware of the need to avoid high notes in the voice and technically demanding passages in the instrumental parts. If he felt that a passage was too difficult ‘per nostri sonatori’ he would either compose a simpler alternative himself, or ask the composer to revise the work. In his dealings with Kozeluch and Beethoven, Thomson frequently asked for such revisions and simplifications – much to their annoyance! The only revisions that Thomson asked of Haydn were eight new violin parts, six new ‘Symphonies’ and an easier piano accompaniment forJohny Faw(JHW 340), all of which Haydn duly supplied.

Thomson’s commission appears to have given Haydn much satisfaction, at least in the early years before illness and old age prevented him from composing. In January 1802 he wrote, in his own hand and in large capital letters, ‘MI VANTO DI QUESTO LAVORO’ (‘I am proud of this work’). Thomson was thrilled that his favourite composer, ‘the inimitable and immortal Haydn’, should have expressed himself in such glowing terms.

The songs and variations were composed between 1800 and 1802, while Haydn was busy composing his last two Masses,SchöpfungsmesseandHarmoniemesse, and his oratorio,Die Jahreszeiten. Haydn’s health deteriorated in 1803, to the extent that he was only able to fulfil Thomson’s commission with the help of one of his pupils, Sigismund von Neukomm (1778-1858). It is now known that 36 of the 96 songs sent to Thomson in 1803-1804 are by Neukomm, and question marks remain over the authenticity of the remainder. Thomson, of course, knew nothing of Neukomm’s contribution, though he may have been a little disappointed with the quality of some of the arrangements he received latterly from Haydn, for almost 30 of the songs remained unpublished until their inclusion in the new edition ofJoseph Haydn Werke(JHW XXXII/3 & 4) by Rycroft, Edwards and McCue. For the most part Neukomm was adept at imitating Haydn’s style of composition. Indeed he may have been instructed by Haydn to complete the ‘Symphonies and Accompaniments’ by continuing in the style and character of Haydn’s opening bars. There is ample evidence in the manuscripts to indicate that Haydn worked with his pupil, supervising and correcting certain passages before finally approving Neukomm’s work and sending the songs to Edinburgh under his own name.Whether Neukomm received a share of Haydn’s commission fee, which by then had doubled to four ducats for each air, is not known!

Among the 96 folksong arrangements that Haydn sent to Edinburgh in 1803 and 1804 is also a group of 60 Welsh songs commissioned by Thomson for hisSelect Collection of Original Welsh Airs.

Under Thomson’s guidance Haydn responded to the beauty of the melodies and succeeded in arranging the Welsh airs in a most musical and sensitive manner. Despite the fact that he did not have the words, his arrangements for violin, cello and piano are well suited to the poetry – or rather the poetry, commissioned by Thomson after he had received Haydn’s arrangements, is well suited to the music.

Marjorie Rycroft, University of Glasgow © 2006

“For an obscure music seller” – Haydn’s Arrangements of Scottish Folksongs for William Whyte

After William Napier and George Thomson, finally William Whyte (1771-1858), a bookseller from Edinburgh who also sold music, approached Haydn with an offer for more arrangements of Scottish songs in 1802.

We know very little about Whyte. His shop was apparently situated from about 1799 to 1809 “at the sign of the Organ, 1 South St Andrews Street” in Edinburgh. He published popular folksongs arranged for piano and “Scots tunes” by various authors, arranged for instrumental ensembles. The reason why he commissioned new arrangements for Scottish songs from Haydn seems to lie in the fact that he was impressed by the ambitious song collections published by George Thomson, which were striking for both their elegant appearance and their content. Whyte certainly tried to emulate these volumes. Just like Thomson he commissioned the arrangements with instrumental introductions and codas and fully composed accompaniments for piano, violin and cello, and also copied the style of Thomson’s publications.

Whyte published a total of 65 arrangements in the two volumes of his collection “A Collection of Scottish Airs, Harmonized for the Voice & Piano Forte with introductory & concluding Symphonies; and Accompaniments for a Violin & Violoncello. By Joseph Haydn Mus. Doct.”. The first volume, with 40 songs, was published in 1804, the second followed three years later and contained 25 songs, although this volume was originally also to have contained 40 songs. It is not known when and under what circumstances the publisher came into contact with Haydn. Several things, however, indicate that Whyte sent Haydn 50 melodies to be arranged in autumn 1802, probably in November. Haydn negotiated with him an unusually large fee of 20 guilders for each arrangement and obviously set to work at once. He must have sent the first songs to Whyte at the end of 1802 or the beginning of 1803. He even interrupted work on the songs for Thomson – which were less well paid. When he accepted Whyte’s commission, Haydn was still in the middle of the work for Thomson.

By the beginning of 1804 at the latest Haydn seems to have arranged all 50 melodies which Whyte had sent him in the autumn of 1802 and sent the finished songs to Edinburgh. Whyte chose 40, which he published in the first volume of his “Collection”, and kept 10 for the next volume. At a later (unknown) date he sent Haydn another 30 melodies for arranging. But Haydn passed this whole set on to Neukomm. This is not surprising, since Haydn, now over seventy, had been suffering from illness and weakness due to old age for some time, which made it very difficult, if not impossible, for him to compose. His last great work, the string quartet in d minor, Hob. III:83 (op. 103), remained a torso when it was published in 1806, because Haydn was only able to complete the two middle movements by 1803. Neukomm, who was living in St. Petersburg at that time, arranged the 30 melodies for Haydn in two groups of 15 songs each. He finished the first set in October 1804 but the second not until over a year later, in November 1805, as is clear from the “Catalogue of my Works”, which Neukomm was already keeping at this time. However, only the 15 songs from October 1804 were actually published by Whyte. The second group of songs seems never to have reached the publisher (or even Haydn?). This is why Volume II of Whyte’s “Collection” only contains 25 instead of 40 songs as planned.

George Thomson was not at all pleased about the new publication from the house of Whyte, whom he once called an “obscure music seller”. First and foremost he accused Whyte of copying his edition, but was probably also annoyed by the fact that Whyte had published some of the melodies, arranged by Haydn, which he himself had commissioned Haydn to compose. Haydn arranged a total of 27 songs for both Whyte and Thomson. But he practically never repeated himself! Nearly every time he succeeded in composing not only different introductions and codas but also arrangements. Only once did he sell the same arrangement to both publishers: “Wandering Willie”. Haydn simply added to the later version, for Thomson, a second voice part (nevertheless, Thomson did not publish it).

Haydn did not allow the volume of the material to be arranged to prevent him from giving his full attention to each song. With inexhaustible depths of imagination he composed beautifully atmospheric instrumental movements, setting one small, shiny jewel after the other. It can be said with no doubt whatsoever that the song arrangements represent an important part of Haydn’s late oeuvre which has only recently been rediscovered. Haydn invested all his experience and artistic abilities in these arrangements which we may regard as the last love of his long life as a composer, after the great river of his symphonies, quartets, trios and sonatas had finally dried up.

Andreas Friesenhagen, Joseph Haydn Institute, Cologne © 2007
(Translation Susan Doering)