Emma’s Songbooks: Rediscovered Music for Nelson

Posted in museums, online learning by Editor on December 17, 2021

Songbook once owned by Lady Hamilton, which has a cantata composed by G.G. Ferrari and dedicated to Lord Nelson
(Museum of London, 31.17/2)

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From the Museum of London:

Emma’s Songbooks: Rediscovered Music for Nelson
Online, Museum of London Docklands, recording available 21 December 2021 — 11 January 2022

In partnership with the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the Museum of London Docklands brings to life songs dedicated to Horatio Nelson’s naval victories, recently rediscovered in Emma Hamilton’s songbooks by Museum of London librarian Lluis Tembleque Terés. Terés kicks off the event with a presentation on his finds and their historical context, after which Christopher Suckling, Head of Historical Performance at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, will give an insight onto the music world at the beginning of the 19th century. Following the talks, performers from the School will play the four rediscovered pieces, along with a number of other relevant scores. Finally, Terés will show items from the Museum collections connected to Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson—all in the immersive surroundings of the Museum of London Docklands.

Please note that this will be a recording of the live event, which took place on December 11. You will have seven days to access the recording from the date you select as part of the ticket purchase process.

Songbook once owned by Emma Hamilton, here shown by Museum of London librarian Lluis Tembleque Terés
(Museum of London, 31.17/2; photo by John Chase)

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From the press release (via Art Daily) . . .

A recording of an old sea song, one of four recently rediscovered pieces of music paying tribute to Nelson, has been released today by the Museum of London. Brought to life by musicians from Guildhall School of Music & Drama, it marks the first performance of the piece in over 200 years. The extraordinary discovery was made last year by Museum of London librarian Lluis Tembleque Teres who discovered it amongst songbooks belonging to Nelson’s lover, the actress and model Emma Hamilton.

It is thought the song was sung after the battle of Cape St Vincent (1797) and transcribed by Nelson after hearing it chanted by his crew. The lyrics have been known about since a letter from Nelson to William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry, was sold at auction in 2013—the only other known reference to the song. The new discovery points to the addition of new music and a chorus by the Duke, a notorious society figure, whose reputation for gambling and horse racing has long overshadowed his musical ability. A personal friend of Emma Hamilton, his authorship of the piece is recorded in Emma’s own hand.

Lluis Tembleque Teres, librarian, Museum of London, said, “The song was written by Nelson’s crew in one of his early victories. It is fascinating how, some four years later and already a national hero, he recovers the lyrics and sends them to the Duke of Queensberry, almost as if showing off his early successes. The Duke then adds music and a chorus, and gifts the manuscript to Emma Hamilton, thus allowing us exactly 220 years later to relive Nelson’s fame while performing it.”

Dr Christopher Suckling, Head of Historical Performance at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, said, “Equally as extraordinary is that a man of the Duke of Queensberry’s position should take the time and take the effort to compose at least two pieces of music in Nelson’s honour. That he should choose to express himself through this least gentlemanly of arts speaks to both his strength of feeling for Nelson and his sensibility towards the Admiral’s relationship with Emma Hamilton.”

The original manuscripts reflect the different manner in which music was experienced at the turn of the nineteenth century, its empty staves typical of a time when music could be played by any combination of available musicians. Amongst the upper classes, the function of domestic music was largely seen as a way to kill time and despite some contemporaries considering social music making to be the embodiment of morality, playing and composing was not held in high regard.

The release follows a special one-off live performance of all four songs at the Museum of London Docklands on 11th December, which will be available to watch in full as an online event starting Tuesday, 21 December 2021.

A free copy of the sea song is available for download here»

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