Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

360+ songs with lyrics, sheet music, historical notes & glossary.

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written for music \ Burns adopted what other poets rejected— popular airs—and he adopted them consciously. Just as when he was taunted with 'the ignominy of the Excise,' he replied that he would rather be thought to do credit to his profession than borrow credit from it; so when Thomson Implied a censure on his musical taste, he said that although many cultured persons found no merit in his favourite tunes, that was no reason why being cheaply pleased ' I should deny myself that pleasure *.' He did not deny himself that pleasure, and as the result his songs are an epitome of Scottish music still known and still admired.
Considering this it is the more remarkable that Burns's biographers should with one accord have ignored or omitted a description of his musical perception and his treatment of music. One would have thought that, apart from his peculiar method of writing always to airs—a method which probably goes a long way towards explaining why his songs have outlived and made of no account the songs of so many other poets—his mere musical-editorial talent must have attracted notice. If he com­municated to Johnson's Museum only one-half of the forty-five traditional airs which Stenhouse assigns to him, the record is remarkable enough for an amateur musician. But his biographers have not allowed him any musical standing whatever. Currie obviously accepted without comment Murdoch's opinion, who said of him that he was a remarkably dull boy and his voice untunable, and that it was long before he learned to distinguish one tune from another3. A verdict of tune-deafness seems to have been
1 Dr. Thomas Campion, a musician as well as a poet, composed for his verses, but the music, like all conscious art of the polyphonic period, is now forgotten and known only to the student. All artistic music fades before the continuonsj progress of the art; whereas the unconscious and untutored music of nature, ] the sImple anonymous airs of the people, which are the basis of the art, remain unImpaired by age.
" Works of Robert Burns (Edin. 1877-9, 8vo, 6 vols.), vi.joj.
3 As John Murdoch, the only schoolmaster of Burns, at the same time said that he was the most unlikely boy to be a poet, his observations—from what was but an immature and dormant intellect—may be disregarded in the light of what came after. Here follows what Murdoch said of Burns and his brother Gilbert:—' I attempted to teach them a little church music. Here they were left far behind by all the rest of the school. Robert's ear, in particular, was remarkably dull, and his voice untunable. It was long before I could get