The genesis of Thomas Moore’s Irish melodies, 1808-1834

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Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies (1808–34) is arguably the most successful songster of the nineteenth century, for it enjoyed a multi-continental circulation at the time and has attracted a wealth of ‘cover versions’ over the past two hundred years. Fraternal publishers William and James Power commissioned this series, initially approaching the poet Thomas Moore as lyricist. In February 1807 Moore wrote to the composer Sir John Stevenson, explaining that he would select the tunes (drawn from the traditional repertory of Irish melodies) and then write the lyrics in response to them; Stevenson would arrange these songs with ‘symphonies and accompaniments’ appropriate for amateur pianists. Each number (of what eventually became a ten-part series) would contain twelve songs for solo voice and piano (with three or four per number also including harmonized verses) with lyrics underneath the engraved music – this is complemented by a presentation of the poetry alone in letterpress format. The publishing arrangements for this series were complicated. Initially, this was a joint enterprise of the two brothers, but run from two geographic locations (London and Dublin) and producing two parallel versions of the same works through two distinct production processes. By number 7 (1818), the brothers had irrevocably quarrelled and were publishing separately; for number 8 there were two composers involved in creating their own settings to the same lyrics (Stevenson continuing with William Power, while James Power commissioned Henry Bishop); legal proceedings saw James alone as publisher for numbers 9 and 10. The very popularity of the series affords some bibliographical complexity: each number within it ran to numerous issues with the original publishers – with the first eight seeing more than one issue in their first year. Here I will examine the production processes behind the Irish Melodies, which is closely linked to a consideration of Moore’s own creative processes. Moore himself viewed the prospect of creating this particular songster as a serious artistic project. Already an experienced lyricist, he was aware that the ‘poet must write not to the eye but to the ear’. He thus thought it important to adapt the Irish tunes, as they were too irregular (in structure and rhythm) for their new purpose. This seriousness of purpose was mirrored in his working methods.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCheap Print and Popular Song in the Nineteenth Century
Subtitle of host publicationA Cultural History of the Songster
EditorsPaul Watt
PublisherReader, Cambridge University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781316672037
ISBN (Print)9781107159914
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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