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The assignment of dates to national melodies on internal evidence—and we nave often no other to guide us—is attended with difficulties altogether special. An average musical composition can as little conceal its age as an average human being. A thousand peculiarities in its plan and details will betray to an experienced eye or ear the approximate time, and often even place, of its production. But tunes, pure and simple, are the waifs and strays of musical creation —the offspring of genius often not amenable to, often not cognizant of, musical law, to whose lot it has not unfrequently fallen to anticipate modes of operations not yet sanctioned by the orthodox practitioner. That musical history furnishes many instances of this is certain ; melodies, the dates of which are indisputable, being found cast in forms—technically, in a tonality—not generally accepted and used till many years after their composition. The Editor has not succeeded in ascertaining on what evidence so high an antiquity is assigned to certain tunes in many Scottish, Welsh, and Irish collections. That the stocks on which some of them have been grafted are ancient is probable; or (to change the metaphor) that the work handed down to us may enclose, or may have altogether replaced, another of very distant date, is neither impossible nor improbable; but in these, as in too many other instances, restoration and repair have destroyed a monument, and its transformation has been so thorough, that the original artificer might fail to find any of his own work left in it.
The value and interest, to the musical reader, of a collection like the following consist greatly in the opportunity it affords of comparing, not merely one melody with another, but any set of national melodies with any other—the English with the Irish, the Irish with the Welsh, and so on. The songs of a people might be expected, in some marked way, to reveal its character and peculiarities. That from their literary part, the words, something in respect of these might, in the absence of all other knowledge, be predicated is certain ; but that from their musical part, the notes—essentially so vague, so unequal to