George Thomson (musician)

George Thomson (musician)

George Thomson (1757–1851), born at Limekilns, Fife, Scotland, was a noted collector of the Music of Scotland and a friend of Robert Burns. He was clerk to the Board of Trustees in Edinburgh for sixty years. His "A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice" came out in five volumes between 1799 and 1818, and included contributions from Burns, Walter Scott and Thomas Campbell.

Early life

His father was the schoolmaster at Limekilns, Dunfermline, and he had some legal training. In 1780 he gained a clerical appointment with the "Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Art and Manufacture in Scotland" on the recommendation of John Home, and spent the rest of his career with this body set up under the Treaty of Union to promote Scottish trade with money given by Parliament in compensation for losses in the Darien Scheme and for taking on a share of England's national debt, eventually becoming Chief Clerk.

Collection of Scots songs

Thomson played in the orchestra of the St Cecilia Concerts, enjoying performances of Scots songs by Italian castrati visiting Scotland. This gave him the idea of bringing out a collection of Scots songs with new accompaniments and respectable words. In the summer of 1792 he got Andrew Erskine, younger brother of the composer the Earl of Kellie, to take part in the project, but about fifteen months later Erskine, with gambling debts, ended his life by jumping into the Firth of Forth.

To continue the project Thomson asked Alexander Cunningham for a letter of introduction to Robert Burns and in September 1792 sent it with his letter stating that "For some years past, I have, with a friend or two. employed many leisure hours in collating and collecting the most favourite of our national melodies, for publication.... we are desirous to have the poetry improved wherever it seems unworthy of the music.... Some charming melodies are united to mere nonsense and doggerel, while others are accommodated with rhymes so loose and indelicate as cannot be sung in decent company. To remove this reproach would be an easy task to the author of "The Cotter's Saturday Night"... We shall esteem your poetical assistance a particular favour, besides paying any reasonable price you shall please to demand for it". Burns was already a contributor to James Johnson's "The Scots Musical Museum" and agreed to do the work, but indignantly added that "In the honest enthusiasm with which I embark in your undertaking, to talk of money, wages, fee, hire, and etc. could be downright Sodomy of Soul! A proof of each of the Songs that I compose or amend, 1 shall receive as a favour."

"Select Scottish Airs"

The first part of Thomson's "Select Scottish Airs", brought out in June 1793, contained 25 songs by Burns. Thomson sent him a copy and, with the note that "you must suffer me to enclose a small mark of my gratitude, and to repeat it–afterwards when I find it convenient" a £5 note. Burns responded indignantly "that you truly hurt me with your pecuniary parcel. It degrades me in my own eyes. However, to return it would savour of bombast affectation; But, as to any more traffic of that Dr and Cr kind, I swear, by that HONOUR which crowns the upright Statue of ROBt BURNS'S INTEGRITY! On the least notion of it, I will indignantly spurn the by-past transaction, and from that moment commence entire Stranger to you!" Thomson did not attempt again to make payments until, close to the end of his life, the dying poet desperately begged him for a further five pounds.

Burns gave his congratulations on the elegant appearance of the book, and Thomson soon decided, with the aid of his willing collaborator, to include "every Scottish air and song worth singing".

Burns kept on providing songs until a few days before his death, and became involved in a lot of correspondence with Thomson, responding to editorial suggestions and justifying reasons for altering an old song or writing a new song to a particular tune. This gives a valuable insight into his approach to Scots song. Once Burns had stated his wishes Thomson rarely argued back, but sometimes made alterations without consulting the poet and ignored the request of Burns to return unsuitable songs for Johnson to put into print. Burns made it clear that in giving one edition of his songs he was not giving away his copyright. Alternative English language versions of the songs were provided by John Wolcot under the pen name of "Peter Pindar", but after he withdrew in August 1793 Thomson persuaded Burns to produce the English verses as well as his Scots language lyrics.

Thomson frequently suggested "improvements" which Burns rightly rejected. A particular instance was "Scots Wha Hae" where Thomson insisted on an alternative to the familiar tune, and had Burns alter his stanzas to suit, but was later forced by public pressure to restore the original version.

Burns wrote "You cannot imagine how much this business of composing for your publication had added to my enjoyments. What with my early attachments to ballads, Johnson's Museum, with your book, and etc. Balladmaking is now as completely my hobbyhorse, as ever Fortifications was Uncle Toby's ; so I'll e'en canter it away till I come to the limit of my race (God grant that I may take the right side of the winning post!) and then chearfully looking back on the honest folks with whom I have been happy, I shall say, or sing, ' Sac merry as we a' hae been'."

External links

* [ Robert Burns Country - Thomson, George.]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • George Thomson — may refer to: *George Thomson (shipbuilder) (1815 1866), Scottish engineer and shipbuilder *George Thomson (musician) (1757 1821), Scottish musician; collector of the music of Scotland *George Paget Thomson (1892 1975), English physicist and… …   Wikipedia

  • Thomson (surname) — Family name name = Thomson imagesize= caption= pronunciation = meaning = son of Thomas region =Crusades origin = related names =Thompson, Thomason, Tompson, Thompsen, Tomason footnotes=Thomson is a Scottish and English patronymic surname meaning… …   Wikipedia

  • Thomson, George — ▪ Scottish publisher born March 4, 1757, Limekilns, Fife, Scot. died Feb. 18, 1851, Leith, Midlothian       Scottish amateur editor and publisher of Scottish folk songs, which he attempted to provide with semiclassical settings.       Impressed… …   Universalium

  • Sir George Monoux College — Sir George Monoux Sixth Form College Established 1527 Type Sixth Form College Principal Paolo Ramella Location …   Wikipedia

  • Glenn McDonald (musician) — William Glenn McDonald (August 29, 1939–December 16, 1998) was a Canadian jazz saxophonist. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, McDonald became rebellious as a teen and ended up in a reform school run by the Christian Brothers of Ireland. At the …   Wikipedia

  • Thomason (surname) — Family name name = Thomason imagesize= caption= pronunciation = h(o) mason is pronounced TAH ma son meaning = son of Thomas region =Crusades origin = related names =Thompson, Thompsen, Thomson, Tompson, Tomason footnotes=Thomason is a Welsh and… …   Wikipedia

  • Beethoven, Ludwig van — (baptized Dec. 17, 1770, Bonn, archbishopric of Cologne died March 26, 1827, Vienna, Austria) German composer. Born to a musical family, he was a precociously gifted pianist and violist. After nine years as a court musician in Bonn, he moved to… …   Universalium

  • Deaths in October 2008 — Contents 1 October 2008 1.1 31 1.2 30 1.3 29 …   Wikipedia

  • 1989 in music — List of years in music (Table) … 1979 • 1980 • 1981 • 1982 • 1983 • 1984 • 1985 •    1986 • 1987 • 1988 – 1989 – 1990 • 1991 • 1992 •    1993 • 1994 • 1995 • 1996 • 19 …   Wikipedia

  • Music of Scotland — A Pipe Major playing the Great Highland Bagpipe Scotland is internationally known for its traditional music, which has remained vibrant throughout the 20th century, when many traditional forms worldwide lost popularity to pop music. In spite of… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.