[from Mannin #6 1916]

Old Manx Music

UNTIL quite recent years very little printed music of Manx interest appears to have circulated in the Island nor is, there evidence that much existed in manuscript. That there were a considerable number of ballads and carvals is testified by the pieces and titles of pieces that have come down to us, and it is fair to assume that most of the ballads, if not the carvals, had their own tunes. In the year 1820 some of the old ballad tunes were requisitioned to form a book of music with English words and pianoforte accompaniment. About the middle of the century a few scattered pieces appeared in music form and in books, but it was left to the workers of a later period to rescue both music and words of the bulk of Manx ballads. It may be taken from the evidence of recent publications that the titles of over one hundred and forty ballads are now known. Of these the words have survived (wholly or in part) in seventy cases, and the music in nearly ninety. As regards carvals the case is different. 'the words of these were copied into carval books and religiously preserved for annual use at Oie'l Voirreys, but, although they were sung on these occasions, their tunes were never committed to musical notation. The result is that whereas there are about ninety carvals at present recorded, all having the words (practically) in full, the tunes to them (with few exceptions) are still unknown. Of songs as distinct from ballads (though the Manx word 'Arrane' is often used inter-changeably) only a few examples appear to have survived with some fragments, the latter recorded in Kelly's Dictionary and by Miss S. Morrison and Mr. C. Roeder.[Manx Proverbs and Sayings, 1905.Manx Notes and Queries, 1904.]

My present purpose is to place on record all collections and separate pieces of music, so far as my knowledge goes, that were in use in or in any way identified with the Isle of Man, and printed before the year 1896, after which we have Manx music in abundance.

Barrow's Mona Melodies was published in 1810 and is now one of the scarcest of Manx treasures. Mr. W. H. Gill, in a lecture on Manx music at Sidcup in 1895,stated that only three copies were known to exist, two being in the British Museum and one in the Isle of Man. Another copy however happened to be in my possession and from it I had supplied the tunes for the late Mr. A. W. Moore's Manx Ballads and Music. That there were two distinct issues or editions of this rare work, does not appear to have been discovered, but the fact has just come to my knowledge. In searching for some years for a second copy for one of the pioneers of Manx music in the Island, my quest was at last rewarded and the copy obtained proves to be a greater find than expected, being (what is so dear to a bibliophile)an unknown edition with a differently set title-page from that of the one already in my possession. I had the satisfaction of pointing out that a similar incident had occurred in the case of the first edition of the Manx Bible (Whitehaven), of which there were two issues, and the same thing happened in that of The Manx Sketch Book by Thomas Ashe (1825) another scarce item amongst Manx books. As regards the two issues of The Mona Melodies it is difficult to say which was the earlier. The publishers were the same in both. The title-page of one bears a dedication to the Duchess of Kent by a Mrs. C. St. George, a lady who kept a ladies' school in Douglas and was the authoress of two Manx novels Edwardine(c. 1815) and Maria, a Domestic Tale (1817).[Bibliotheca Monensis] The other copy does not mention her.

The Melodies being a work seldom seen, it may be of interest to add a few more words by way of description. It is of the usual music size and consists of twenty-six pages. A long list of subscribers is given which contains the names of Governor Smelt, Deemsters Gawne and MacHutchin; of members of the Murray and Stanley families and of other well-known Manx people. Next follows an "Advertisement', in which the following naïve statement occurs, 'the words are entirely new, as the subjects of the Manks Ballads were not esteemed to be of sufficient general interest to warrant their translation'.,

The titles of the Melodies are in Manx, and eleven of the thirteen airs which the book contains are those which belonged to the old ballads; the two others being dance tunes. The pianoforte accompaniment is by 'An Amateur' (unknown). The words are in English and, as will have been gathered, bear no relation to the originals, although the setting of them remains Manx. A short historical sketch is given with some of the pieces. In Moore's Manx Ballads and Music(1886) the original Manx words and tunes are brought together.

The next collection of music for use in the Island was published in the time of, and dedicated to, Bishop Ward (1827-1838). It was a Selection of Psalms and Hymns chiefly designed for the use of Congregations in the Isle of Man. It contains 58 tunes. The printer's and publisher's names, and the date, are not given. The copy in my possession has the following note signed by Ann Ward (probably the wife or daughter of the bishop). The profit from the sale of this work to be given for the benefit of schools in the Isle of Man.' It will be remembered that Bishop Ward was instrumental in raising a considerable sum for providing extra church accommodation in the Island and towards the building of King William's College.

In 1837 an arrangement of Mylecharane, with variations for the pianoforte, was published by C. H.Quarterman, a music professor of Douglas.

A compilation similar to that of the time of Bishop Ward appeared in 1842 known as the Mona Melodist by Isaac Dale, and described as a ' Selection of Psalms and Hymn Tunes in Congregational or Family Worship.' Printer, J. Quiggin, Douglas. The tunes, of which there were 108, include ' Molly Charane, the 'Isle of Man National Air' set to 'There is a land of pure delight'; ' Hatfield,' composed by the Rev. R. Brown; 'Douglas ' by G. H. Wood, author of 'Poems '1853' and 'Wavertree' by J. Cretney of Douglas, all of which are therefore of Manx interest. A reprint of this book was issued in Douglas some few years ago.

The next Manx piece to which a date can be definitely assigned was Ben my Chree, a song written on the Occasion of the Royal (Queen Victoria's) visit to the Island in 1857 and dedicated to Her Majesty. It is an 'old-time' looking piece with a picture cover, common to the period, showing quite a good view of Douglas from Fort Anne. Words adapted to an old Manx melody (Mylecharaine) and published by John Mylrea of Douglas. Another song, Mona Macree, appeared about the same time (also with emblematical cover) representing a maiden with spinning-wheel a': her side; do not however recognize the air as specifically Manx; the words are not. Later came Fantasia on Manx Airs , a pianoforte piece by David Reeve. The airs introduced are 'Mylecharaine', 'O Shein doin,' 'Isbel Foalsey,' and 'Callin veg dhoan;' M. Glover, of Douglas, was the publisher. There were other pieces of still later date more or less associated with the Island, including Laxey Glen Schottische and Douglas Bay Polka (both with coloured representations of Manx scenery on their covers), Mona Schottische (emblazoned with the Manx Arms), and numerous editions of Lovely Mona and Ellan Vannin,the words of the latter by Eliza Craven Green, author of 'Seaweeds and Heath Flowers,' 1858.

Another lady, Miss E. Cookson, author of Poems from Manxland (1868), printed the music of Mylecharaine as a frontispiece to her booklet of the same name in 1859. In 1869 Mr. W. Harrison, founder of the old Manx Society, published Mona Miscellany, which contains the music of four of the twenty old ballads, the words of which (with two or three exceptions) were printed for the first time in the Society's publications. His collections of old Manx lore furnished in fact the groundwork for the labour of later writers.

For the next twenty-five years very little was done, but in 1896 Mr. Moore published his Manx Ballads and Music already referred to. Contemporary with this was the work of Deemster Gill, Dr. Clague, and Mr. W. H. Gill, and by them many ballad tunes were rescued from the fast fading memories of the old folk. The fruits of their work are seen in the volumes of Manx National Songs and Manx National Music published by Boosey & Co in 1896 and 1898 respectively.

Thanks to the untiring zeal of Miss S. Morrison other unpublished airs from Dr. Clague's collection, now in possession of the Archdeacon, are now appearing in MANNIN, and Miss M. L. Wood and Mr. W. H. Gill are engaged in arranging and publishing Manx music in various forms, including choral music for the Manx Classes of the Music Guild, which are maintained and financed by the Manx Society.




Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2000