Category Archives: Songs

The Irish Melodies in Europe: 1808-1880

Although Moore himself was adverse to the separation of music and text for his Irish Melodies, by 1817 J.P. Reynolds – an enterprising publisher in Salem, New York— had issued Irish Melodies, Sacred Melodies, and other Poems. This appeared to open the way for a spate of similar publications across Europe, led by Moore’s Parisian agents the Galignanis, who issued various compilations of his poetic works in 1819, 1820, 1823, and 1829. This firm and Baudry’s European Library—also based in Paris—appeared to be addressing an English-language market. Moore’s four titles with Baudry (1821, 1841, 1843, and 1847) made him—along with Walter Scott and Washington Irvine—their fifth most represented author. The 1820s was the most intense decade for English-language publications of the Irish Melodies, which—in combination with the poems for the National Airs—were issued in Brussels (1822), Pisa (1823), and Jersey (1828).

Title-pages for the Jersey (1828) and Paris (1841) editions

of Moore’s Poetry

By 1825 we also have an actual translation of Moore’s poetry, Louise Swanton Belloc’s Les amours des anges et les Mélodies irlandaises. It is interesting to note that Belloc, whose father was Irish, also translated selected works of Moore’s Irish contemporaries Oliver Goldsmith and Maria Edgeworth as well as Moore’s own Memoirs of Lord Byron for various Parisian publishers. By 1835 we have the first Swedish translation of the Irish Melodies; by 1839 the first German. Leipzig (1839, 1843, and 1874), Berlin (1841) and Hamburg (1875) each published Moore’s Irish Melodies in translation. Added to the polyglot profile of Moore’s Irish Melodies were a new French translation by Henri Jousselin (1869), a Spanish translation issued in New York (1875), and an Italian translation issued in Pisa (1880). By a strange quirk of market forces, the first Latin translation of the Irish Melodies (1835) preceded the first in Irish (1842) by some seven years. If we add to this the some seventy editions of the Irish Melodies issued by Moore’s London-based publisher Longmans, and the over 100 editions issued in Dublin, we can appreciate that Moore’s response to the native tunes of his own country held a universal appeal.

(Irish) The Harp that once

“The Harp that once in Tara’s Halls” in Latin and Irish

Are you aware of editions of the Irish Melodies at locations or in languages not mentioned here? If so, we would welcome a comment on the blog.

Images reproduced courtesy of Special Collections, McClay Library, Queen’s University Belfast.


The Minstrel Boy from Irish Melodies Number 5
The Minstrel Boy from Irish Melodies Number 5

Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies are his best-known works. These 124 Irish tunes, arranged for voice and piano with newly-minted lyrics by Moore, were published in ten numbers between 1808 and 1834. The Gibson-Massie Moore collection evidences their popularity as domestic entertainment in the Romantic era with the multiple distinct imprints of each number (thirty for Number one alone) and in the multi-national circulation of Moore’s lyrics (a topic for a future blog post). The series gained a renewed popularity in the Victorian period through the 1846 edition illustrated by Irish artist Daniel Maclise.

Indeed, the most iconic of Moore’s Melodies have become thoroughly ingrained in our modern culture. Foremost amongst these is The Minstrel Boy from Number five. This is often associated specifically with the cause of Irish political freedom–for example as featured in ‘Reflecting the Rising’, the RTÉ centenary concert to mark the 1916 Easter Rising–but which in brass band arrangement has also become a regular feature during the annual Remembrance Sunday service held at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London in November to honour all who have suffered or died in war. The Minstrel Boy, with its celebration of freedom and homage to brave personal sacrifice, has also been adopted by film-makers to mark or commemorate actions as diverse as those of the ‘1st United States Voluntary Calvary’ in the Spanish-American War of 1898 (Rough Riders, 1997), the American Invasion of Normandy in World War II (Saving Private Ryan, 1998), and a failed US Army mission in Somalia during the early 1990s (Black Hawk Down, 2001). It is Moore’s poignant lyrics that have given the tune, ‘The Moreen’, this particular resonance:

“The Minstrel-Boy to the war is gone,

In the ranks of death you’ll find him;

His father’s sword he had girded on,

And his wild harp slung behind him.

‘Land of song!’ said the warrior-bard,

‘Tho’ all the world betrays thee,

One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,

One faithful harp shall praise thee!’

The Minstrel fell! – but the foeman’s chain

Could not bring his proud soul under;

The harp he lov’d ne’er spoke again,

For he tore its chords asunder;

And said, ‘No chains shall sully thee,

‘Thou soul of love and bravery!

‘Thy songs were made for the pure and free

‘They shall never sound in slavery.’”

Are you aware of any arrangements or recordings of Moore’s The Minstrel Boy? If so, we would be delighted to learn of these through the comments page of this blog.

Images Courtesy of Special Collections, The McClay Library, Queen’s University Belfast


20 March 2016

Where are the Visions from National Airs Number 5
Where are the Visions from National Airs Number 5

In our previous blog we mentioned that a total of 72 songs were published across the 6 Numbers of the National Airs.  The origin of all but two of the airs used is identified i.e. Slumber, Oh! Slumber and Where are the visions, both from Number 5.  Our previous blog was about Slumber, Oh! Slumber, and today’s blog is about Where are the visionsWhere are the visions is set in the key of F major and in 3/8 time.  Following a 16 bar piano introduction the singer begins in bar 17.  Each of the four verses is divided by a piano interlude.  The piano accompaniments for all songs in Number 5 were composed by Henry R. Bishop.  Many of the National Airs include an option for more than one voice and are listed in the index in Power’s early editions as ‘Harmonised Airs’.  As can be seen in the photograph Where are the visions may be performed by one singer or as a duet; the duet is set in thirds.  The words of the song are transcribed below:

“Where are the visions that round me once hover’d,

Forms that had grace in their shadows alone,

Looks, fresh as light from a star just discover’d,

And voices that music might take for her own?”

Time, while I spoke, with his wings resting o’er me,

Heard me say “where are those visions, oh, where?”

And, pointing his wand to the sunset before me,

Said, with a voice like the hollow wind, “There!”

Fondly I look’d, when the wizard had spoken,

On to the dimshining [sic] ruins of Day,

And there, in that light, like a talisman broken,

Saw the bright fragments of Hope melt away.

“Oh! Lend me thy wings, Time” I hastily utter’d,

Impatient to catch the last glimmer that shone;

But scarcely again had the dark wizard flutter’d

His wing o’er my head, ere the light all was gone.

If you know the origin of the air for Where are the vision please let us know in the comments.

Image Courtesy of Special Collections, The McClay Library, Queen’s University Belfast


10 March 2016

Image blog Post 5
Slumber, Oh! Slumber
Moore’s National Airs Number 5

While examining copies of Moore’s National Airs extant in Special Collections at the McClay Library, QUB, I was amazed at the number of different countries and cultures which inspired the poet-songwriter.  The song series includes airs from Spain, India, Hungary, Russia, Denmark and Malta.  There are 12 songs in each of the 6 Numbers.  That makes a total of 72 songs in the National Airs series.  Slumber, Oh! Slumber from Number 5 is one of only two songs in the whole series where the origin of the air is not identified.  The song is in the key of B flat major, set in 2/4 time and has two verses.  The singer begins in bar 11 after a 10 bar piano introduction.  The two verses are divided by a 6 bar piano interlude.  I’ve transcribed the words below:

“Slumber, oh! Slumber if, sleeping thou mak’st

My heart beat so wildly, I’m lost, when thou wak’st!

Thus sung I to a maiden, Who slept one summer’s day,

And like a flow’r o’er laden With noontide sunshine, lay.

Breathe not, oh, breathe not, ye winds, o’er her cheeks,

If mute thus she charm me, I’m lost when she speaks.

Thus sing I, while awaking, She murmurs words, that seems,

As if her lips were taking Farewell of some sweet dream.”

Perhaps some of our readers might know the origin of the air.

Let us know in the comments.

Image Courtesy of Special Collections, The McClay Library, Queen’s University Belfast


20 February 2016


Moore's National Airs Number 1
Moore’s National Airs Number 1

During October and November I spent time examining 32 editions of Moore’s National Airs extant in Special Collections at the McClay Library, Queen’s University Belfast.  Original titles for Moore’s National Airs include National Melodies and Airs of all Countries.  Examination of Moore’s letters show that his publisher, James Power, appears to have proposed the former title while the poet-songwriter’s own preference was for the latter title.  I believe that what eventually became the final title, i.e. National Airs, encompasses the best of what was proposed while also capturing the essence of this particular song series.

Moore's National Airs Number 1
Moore’s National Airs Number 1

The images in this blog show the title pages from two different editions of the First Number of National Airs.  The edition shown in the first image was published by James Power, 34 Strand, London and bears the date of publication; April 23rd 1818.  The edition shown in the second image was published by James’ brother William who was based at 4 Westmorland Street, Dublin.  Each title page provides us with information about the various individuals involved in creating these early editions; the composer of the piano accompaniments was Sir John Stevenson; the words, of course, were by Thomas Moore; both title pages include an illustration drawn by T. [Thomas] Stothard.  Do you notice any differences between the two title pages?  They may be somewhat difficult to identify in the photographs.  The price shown on the James Power edition (on left) is 12 shillings, the price shown on the William Power edition is 13 shillings.  Despite including an illustration by the same artist each publisher engaged a different engraver; J. Mitan is the engraver attributed on James Power’s edition and Martyn of Dublin is the engraver attributed on William Power’s edition.  If you enjoyed this post share it on Twitter and Facebook.  Thank you!

Images Courtesy of Special Collections, The McClay Library, Queen’s University Belfast