English Romantic Songs and Ballads: the complete introduction by Brian Jeffery

English Romantic Songs and Ballads, this small anthology of English ballads of the early nineteenth century with guitar, has been one of the most popular Tecla publications since it first appeared in 1983. Because of continuing interest, the book is now reprinted, with only small changes to this introduction.

The ballads in this book are art songs, that is to say original compositions by composers of this period. They are usually to a new literary text, and they usually have nothing to do with folk-songs, which are of a different nature and have a different social connotation. A further distinction must also be made: they are not quite the same as the Victorian “drawing-room” ballad, which dates from the later part of the century. These songs from the earlier part of the century, written before Victoria came to the throne in 1837, are subtly different: to my ear at least they are sturdier, less maudlin, participating still in an eighteenth-century tradition.

It would be true to say that the ballads of that time were among the most popular forms of music of their day. Published in their thousands, they reached and touched most people, and their appeal was enormous. Their sentiments often appeal to us to this day, and songs of a very similar nature are still performed by singers with enormous success on stage and television. Sometimes their sentiments seem exaggerated in the context of today’s taste, but nevertheless most ballads are stories of love with a charming simplicity and a splendid melodic gift that can easily and gladly be surrendered to today. The best of them are works of art that, beyond any question, deserve to be taken seriously.

English ballads of the early nineteenth century were published at the time, and until now have been almost exclusively known, in versions for voice and piano. But that is only because it was a viable way to market them, on practical and financial grounds. In fact, they were most often first performed on a stage with orchestra, and that is the form in which the public would have first known them. “Sung with unbounded applause by Mr. or Mrs. X”, as it so often says on the title-page, means sung with orchestral accompaniment. When we think of a ballad, therefore, it is as a song performed on stage with orchestra that we should first think of it. However, in the days before sound recordings, the publishers provided versions for voice with piano accompaniment so that the songs could be recreated in the drawing-room, and those versions with piano have survived, whereas the orchestral accompaniments are heard no more.

But there was also another very common way in which the ballad could be taken home and recreated in the drawing-room: namely, with guitar accompaniment. The guitar accompaniments were made by professional guitarists, men such as Sola, Eulenstein, or Verini, and they were usually issued by the same publishers who brought out the versions with piano, and at the same time or within a year or so. We have no way of telling how many copies were printed. But over the last century and a half, between 1840 and our own times, the guitar sank in popularity while the piano maintained its position, with the result that the guitar versions were quite simply thrown away to the point that guitar music of the early nineteenth century in England is now rare. Published catalogues show that much was printed. I have carried out extensive research in public and private libraries, and many items which are known to have been printed have not been found. But from what has emerged, it had been possible to put together the present anthology. For singers and guitarists alike, it is an Aladdin’s cave of a repertory which until now has been completely unpublished in modern editions and which to most people was not even known to have existed.

This is not the place to go into the history of the English ballad in this period. The biographies of composers such as Bishop, Moore, Barnett, Bayly, and Horn, are easily available in the standard reference books. An outline of the musical genre may be found in Music in Britain: The Romantic Age 1800-1914, edited by Nicholas Temperley, which appeared in 1981, and many detailed notes are in Michael R. Turner’s The Parlour Song Book and Just a Song at Twilight (London, 1972 and 1975), which are anthologies of songs and ballads with piano including both early and late nineteenth century songs. It is likely that with the growing interest in English music of this period, more musicological work will be done on the subject.

The guitars used in England at that time were made by the Panormo family in London, by Lacote in Paris, and by very many other makers of similar models, some made in England and some imported, particularly from France. These guitars did not on the whole have the sharp treble of modern nylon-strung guitars, and accordingly it will be noticed that the accompaniments in this book do not emphasize the treble as much as some modern accompaniments do. But these Panormos and Lacotes usually carried better than many modern instruments and they gave a greater clarity in the inner voices. Such, at least, is my own experience: I played a Lacote with gut strings in concerts for several years and its clarity and carrying power yielded nothing to modern guitars. On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that modern singers are trained to sing more heavily than singers in the early nineteenth century, perhaps through the necessity of being heard through the weight of the orchestra all of whose instruments have become so much heavier since Beethoven’s time. It is desirable, in performing these ballads, that the singer should scale down his or her volume in order to achieve a balance with the instrument. If the singer and the guitarist are one person, as was certainly often the case at the time, so much the better.

This is (as far as I know) the first time that any of these songs in their guitar versions have been published in a modern edition. It is a pleasure to thank those who have assisted in the exploration of this virgin territory: the antiquarian music dealers who enabled me to acquire copies, the collectors and librarians who gave me every assistance, the singers and guitarists who tried out examples in concerts in Scandinavia. After the first edition of this book in 1983, there have been a modest number of performances and recordings, but there is still room for more. Many a guitarist and singer will find the public receptive indeed.

Both singer and guitarist are encouraged to ornament their parts, especially at cadences. It is true that as yet relatively little is known about ornamentation technique in the early nineteenth century, but the early music movement is rapidly extending itself forward into that period, and its techniques of investigation can fruitfully be applied. One song in this collection is of particular interest in this regard: Alexander Lee’s “Come where the aspens quiver”, where large amounts of written-out ornamentation are included. It can certainly be used as a model for other songs.

The original fingering has been kept. The symbol + on notes on the sixth course means that the note in question was intended to be stopped with the left hand thumb, and in “The broken hearts” a barré is indicated to be performed by the little finger of the left hand. The player can of course feel free to change such things if he or she so wishes.

For information on English music publishers at this period, see Charles Humphries and William C. Smith, Music Publishing in the British Isles, 2nd edition (Oxford, 1970), and O.W. Neighbour and Alan Tyson, English Music Publishers’ Plate Numbers in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century (London, 1965).

The production of this book has involved a good deal of research. It is permissible to photocopy pages for the purpose of performances in which you yourself are a participant, but apart from that, you are asked not to impede sales of the book by photocopying it. Photocopying is, in any case, illegal and can result in prosecution. Please bear in mind that further copies of this book are readily and quickly available at a reasonable price from book and music shops worldwide or direct from the publisher.

Some of the songs in this book come from my own collection. Others come from the collections of the late Robert Spencer, the late John Canning, the British Library, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, to all of whom I am deeply grateful for their assistance and cooperation.

Brian Jeffery
London, 1983 and 2003

Copyright 2003 by Tecla Editions. Errors and omissions excepted.