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WALTER SCOTT AND MUSIC

My series on the interface between various British literary figures and music has so far concentrated on a variety of writers from Jane Austen to J. B. Priestley whose works have, by and large, inspired British composers. With Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) matters are a little different. He did, and to an extent still does, inspire composers from these islands but his influence extended considerably wider than that. In many respects he was one of the high priests of Romanticism. In this he rode to some extent on the back of Europe-wide interest in Scotland, originally fuelled to a degree by the writings of Ossian and – at least until the railways came along – scarcely at all by actually visiting the country.

Scott, who was not, incidentally, musical himself (though he liked listening to national songs and many "songs" figure in his novels) had an unusual literary career. The first half of it was devoted to writing poems and ballads. Only from around 1814 did he turn to writing the novels on which, arguably, much of his reputation was founded. Both branches of his literary output have yielded much for composers whose music was stirred by the Scotsman.

Though many had a go at adapting his novels for the stage (and Scott himself wrote some lyrics for Guy Mannering and, at George Thomson’s request, lyrics, eleven in all, fitted to national tunes and later set by Beethoven), the best Scott music was, by and large, composed to his own words. In this connection we may point to Schubert’s seven songs of 1825, two of them partsongs, from The Lady of the Lake, though admittedly these were in translation. Schubert also used songs from Ivanhoe and The Legend of Montrose and the Gesang der Norma from The Pirate. Mendelssohn’s partsongs included a setting of Waken Lords and Ladies Gay. But in the early 19th century there were also Englishmen writing songs for Scott lyrics, few, if any, of whom are or were, even then, household names. But we may mention: J Clarke-Whitfield’s four glees from The Lay of the Last Minstrel from as early as 1808, two songs and a glee extracted from Marmion, eight songs and two glees from Rokeby (1814) and a song from The Lady of the Lake in 1817; Joseph Mazzinghi, who composed three songs from The Lord of the Isles (1815), one from Rokeby (also 1815), one from The Lady of the Lake (1818) and the glee Young Lochinvar from Marmion (1808); Mozart’s one-time pupil Thomas Attwood for his glee Where Shall the Lover Rest? also from Marmion and dated 1810; and the younger Samuel Webbe who penned songs from Rokeby (1815) and The Pirate (1822).

Scott inspired many operas, and a high proportion of these have again been by non-British composers. Most famous of them were Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) by Donizetti and Bizet’s The Fair Maid of Perth, which did not appear until 1867 and in my day best known for its Serenade, recorded by the great Heddle Nash. Other more or less well known titles were Rossini’s La Donna del Lago (The Lady of the Lake) which appears as early as 1819, Marschner’s Der Templer Und Die Judin (1829) and Nicolai’s Il Templario (1840), both based on Ivanhoe (Marschner’s opera may have inspired Sullivan’s much later Ivanhoe), Rob Roy by Flotow (1836), Elizabeth al Castello di Kenilworth (Donizetti, 1829), Aubert’s Leicester {Kenilworth} (1823) and Boieldieu’s La Dame Blanche (based on Guy Mannering) (1825), and best known for its overture.

Mostly these works came from the operatic strongholds of France, Germany and Italy and included such other one-time gems as Carafa’s Le Nozze di Lammermoor (Paris 1829) and La Prison d’Edinbourg {The Heart of Midlothian} (Paris 1833), Ricci’s La Prigione di Edinburgo {ditto} (Treste, 1838), Pacini’s Ivanhoe and Mazzucati’s La Fidenzata di Lammermoor (Padua, 1834).

Occasionally however Scott operas found their ways to more remote opera houses, two from Warsaw for example the Bride of Lammermoor (1832) and Kenilworth (1832), both composed by one Damse, two from Copenhagen, Kenilworth (1832) by C F E Weyse and the Bride of Lammermoor by I Bredal (also 1832), both with libretti by Hans Christian Andersen and even Curmi’s Rob Roy (1832) from Malta.

But it was still London and British-domiciled composers that paid greatest operatic homage to Scott in this early period. Henry Bishop led the way in this, though, as was usual at this time on the English operatic stage much of the music of many of these so-called operas was contributed by other hands. Of those attributed to Bishop there were The Knight of Snowdoun {The Lady of the Lake} (1811), Guy Mannering (1816: contributions by John Whitaker and Thomas Attwood – the novel was published only the year before), The Heart of Midlothian (1819: novel 1818), The Antiquary with Thomas Cooke (1820:1816), The Battle of Bothwell Brig {Old Mortality} (1820:1817), Montrose (1822: contributions by W Ware and W Watson – book published 1820), The Knights of the Cross (1826:1825, derived from The Talisman, which title it often bore) and Nigel or the Crown Jewels (1823:1822). Others besides Bishop got in on the act. George Rodwell put together Waverley in 1814, the year the novel, Scott’s first, was published, and the Lord of the Isles, not a novel of course, in 1834. C E Horn, known to us mostly as the composer of the popular song Cherry Ripe, brought out The Wizard {The Black Dwarf} (1817, again the year of its publication) and Peveril of the Peak (1826:1822). John Davy, remembered by later generations for his song The Bay of Biscay, produced Rob Roy, probably in conjunction with Bishop, in 1818, again the same year as its publication. William Reeve’s Rokeby Castle appeared in 1815 {poem published 1813}. Ivanhoe was especially popular. In the 1820s it was said that five different versions held English stage at various times, one by John Parry, another (1826) a pasticcio using Rossini’s music and still a third played in Doncaster in the early 1820s different from Parry’s as its alternative title was different. Mostly these "operas" - really musicals with much spoken dialogue and indeed often described in advertisements as "musical plays" – were first produced in London, usually at Covent Garden, but they also made their mark in the provinces. As an (admittedly anecdotal example of this, Doncaster saw 24 performances of Guy Mannering between 1817 and 1867, eleven of Rob Roy between 1818 and 1854, four of The Heart of Midlothan between 1819 and 1835, four of Ivanhoe (possibly different versions) between 1820 and 1826, two of The Knight of Snowdoun both in 1811, and one each of The Talisman (1826) and Peveril of the Peak (1829). During the 1850s and 1860s only the last two acts of Guy Mannering were performed to enable it to act as an afterpiece. Its music was spread fairly thinly as the bill for an 1833 performance (of the whole opera) stated there just eleven musical numbers.

Scott inspired music was not confined to songs and operas. Kenilworth was at least twice turned into a ballet, in 1825, with music by one F Mirecki, and in 1831, in London, to a score by the Italian-born, English-domiciled Michael Costa. Berlioz was attracted to Sir Walter’s Romanticism and composed his overtures Waverley in 1828 and Rob Roy in 1831. He was dissatisfied with the latter and sought to destroy it, but it has survived.

Scott’s popularity was scarcely dimmed in the years after his death. We have noted the popularity of Guy Mannering, probably the most durable of London’s pasticcio operas of the 1810s and 1820s, into the 1860s, at least in the provinces, and it was joined by others, few of which are remembered today. Quentin Durward has not so far been mentioned, but operas based on it were staged in London in 1848 (music by one Laurent) and in Paris in 1858 (music by F Gevaert). Balfe’s last opera, Il Talismano (produced 1874 but Balfe’s part of it dated from 1866) was completed by George Macfarren, who three years later, in 1877, brought out a cantata The Lady of the Lake in Glasgow. Hamish MacCunn’s cantata The Lay of the Last Minstrel was premiered in 1888 and Frederick Corder’s The Bride of Triermain was another late Victorian cantata. Purely orchestral pieces came from the pens of John Barnett (the overture The Lay of the Last Minstrel, 1874), E J Loder (overture Marmion 1845), the American Dudley Buck (overture Marmion, 1880), E H Thorne (overture Peveril of the Peak, 1885). G Jacobi (a ballet, Lochinvar, 1890) and Sullivan.

Sullivan was particular attracted to Scott. Apart from the three songs County Guy (1867), Weary Lot is Thine (1886) and The Troubadour (1869), his first major choral work was Kenilworth, for which H F Chorley wrote the book and which was premiered at the Birmingham Festival of 1864. The Marmion overture of 1867 can still be heard today, while his Ivanhoe (1891) was an attempt to launch an opera house to be devoted to "serious" English opera. It did not, of itself, do badly – 160 performances on its initial run was remarkable for a "grand" opera and there have been occasional revivals since. However there was nothing, by Sullivan or anyone else to follow it adequately, so the venture foundered. This is not to deny the many qualities of Ivanhoe which has many splendid individual airs, like "Woo Then Thy Snowflake", "Lord of Our Chosen Race" and the light-hearted "Ho Jolly Jenkin". Nor is the individual characterisation without interest. Ivanhoe has somehow survived the misguided sneers of George Bernard Shaw and other critics and has been recorded in our own day.

It is curious how things run in cycles and Ivanhoe was not the only Scott-inspired opera to be produced in the 1890s, others being Isidore de Lara’s Amy Robsart, based on Kenilworth (London, 1893), Hamish MacCunn’s tuneful often Sullivanesque Jeanie Deans (1894), based on The Heart of Midlothian, another piece which has retained a toe-hold in the repertory, and Rob Roy by the American Reginald de Koven (also first produced in 1894). And we may add to them stage play productions of The Bride of Lammermoor (London 1890) and Marmion (Glasgow, 1891) for both of which Alexander Mackenzie wrote incidental music (in 1924 he was to go further with an opera The Eve of St John).

With a reaction to the ideals of Romanticism one might expect Scott’s star to be in decline during the 20th Century and certainly one wonders how many people still read him (the writer personally has always found his novels unreadable and he recalls politely declining the offer of a complete set from his grandfather who was a devotee). Yet there is still much musical Scott to note, some of it quite surprising like the cantatas Marmion (Haydn Wood, 1911) and Donald Caird (Gordon Jacob, 1930). There were still many songs to lyrics by Scott, by for example Bantock, Max Bruch (Das Feuerkranz really a cantata) the Dane, Adolf Jensen (who also composed a cantata on Donald Caird), Hubert Parry, Frances Routh (his Four Scott Songs, opus 39), Havergal Brian, whose Lullaby of an Infant Chief (SATB), dating from 1914, was re-published in a revised version in 1977, Iain Hamilton (Lord Randal) and Four Border Songs, 1964), David Cox (Nowell! Heap on More Wood, for SATB and percussion) and J H Maunder, of Olivet to Calvary fame, whose setting of A Border Ballad (SATB) was published as late as 1962. A Hunting Song was set by Maurice Blower (a 2-part version) and Arthur Veal (unison voices), both around 1960. Apart from Mackenzie’s opera noted at the end of the previous paragraph Alick Maclean’s Quentin Durward was produced in Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1920. Without digging too deeply we can point to four settings of The Twa Corbies by Howard Ferguson, Ivor Gurney, Victor Hely-Hutchinson and Francis G Scott who produced other songs to lyrics by his namesake.

Additionally there have been films based on some of Scott’s more famous novels and, curiously, again these are closely grouped chronologically. Ivanhoe (1952), Rob Roy the Highland Rogue (1953) and Quentin Durward (1955). All were British films but two of them had musical scores by composers who were domiciled in America Miklós Rózsa for Ivanhoe and Bronislav Kaper for Quentin Durward; Cedric Thorpe Davie obliged Walt Disney for Rob Roy.

It is appropriate that native Scots composers and native Scots music should be associated to a considerable degree with music inspired by Scott. John Davy’s Rob Roy, which we mentioned earlier, used many old Scots songs – we do not term the stage pieces of that period "pasticcio" operas for nothing – and the general popularity of Auld Lang Syne is said to owe much to its incorporation in Davy’s "opera". We have pointed to Mackenzie and MacCunn as well as Cedric Thorpe Davie among Scottish composers. And yet several of Scott’s historical romances, especially his most famous Ivanhoe, had an English, rather than a Scottish topographical background. Further, much of the music he has inspired over 200 years has been not merely British but international. He has "travelled" better than so many other British authors.

Philip L Scowcroft

May 2002

 

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