Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

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ences should have been considered tone-deaf. Of his practical acquaintance with music, his letters to his publishers, wherein he details how he wrote for airs, where the best sets of them are to be found, and how he wished them printed with his verses, show the truth. Concerning Song No. 126, for example, he gives instructions that' the chorus is the first or lower part of the tune, and each verse must be repeated to go through the high or second part.' For another song (No. IJ2) he refers the printer to the book where the music is to be found. With all the knowledge of an antiquarian he tells Thomson how the notation of the humorous tune When she cam ben she bobbit should be printed \ and for another2 he technically describes the music as it appears in the collection where he found it, with the alterations that are necessary to make it fit his verses.
Such instances go to show the critical interest Burns took in music. But besides this it was his practice to spend considerable time in listening to the playing of tunes, that he might become familiar with the correct swing and cadence of the melodies and form an Impression of their meaning. Professor Walker relates how he was calling on Burns in Edinburgh for some particular purpose, and found him so engrossed in correcting his songs, while the tunes were being played on the harpsichord, that he would listen to nothing else. Burns himself tells Clarinda, ' I have just been composing to different tunes V and tells Cunningham that The Sitter's Dochter ' is a first-rate favourite of mine, and I have written what I reckon one of my best songs to it4.' And it was this practice of listening to airs and studying their meaning that made of him not merely an enthusiastic collector of traditional airs, but also the means of getting them printed. At home, during the Highland tours, and in his excursions through the South of Scotland, he collected unknown and rare melodies as if it were his business. As he writes to Thomson, ' I have still several MS. Scots airs which I picked up mostly from the singing of country girls V The book in which he copied these traditional airs, if it still exists, is not known (though, as I have said, Sten-
1 Note 151.              a Note 48.              s Note 84.               * Note 87.
5 Works, vi. 247, where he sends a beautiful little air which he ' had taken down from viva voce.'