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History and Brief Description:



The volume in the Special Collections Division of the University of Kentucky Libraries known as Old English Songs was bound sometime in the second half of the eigheenth century, and formed part of the extensive music library of the great Italian bassist Domenico Dragonetti, who lived in London from 1794 until his death in 1846. This book, along with the rest of his collection of vocal music, passed then to his good friend Vincent Novello, founder of the great music publishing company. Novello recorded his acqusition of the book in an inscription on the inside front cover [image 0004], where he also noted that in 1849 he donated it, along with the rest of the books he received from Dragonetti, to the short-lived Musical Antiquarian Society, with instructions (recorded in many of the volumes, although not this one) that should the Society cease operations, they should be given to the British Museum (see xxx). Within two years, the Society did indeed fail, and Novello’s instructions were followed. For some reason, however, this volume did not go to the Museum, and remained in private hands.

The whereabouts of Old English Songs from c.1850 for almost a century are unknown, but it is probably during this period that the now illegible book plate was probably added. The book was sold in 1965 at an auction of a house outside of Oxford, which had been owned by a member of the Taphouse family, which ran a music shop in Oxford for many years, and was purchased by the antiquarian bookseller Richard Hatchwell (personal communication from Mr. Hatchwell, 19 July 2005), who sold it two years later to the University of Kentucky.

Brief Description

The book that was bound in the late eighteenth century as Old English Songs was compiled at that time from at least two preexistent collections, filled out by a few miscellaneous works. The earlier of the two collections, with printed and manuscript song sheets from the late seventeenth century to about 1715, now forms most of the latter half of Old English Songs, items 52 to 99. It is clearly recognizable by the presence of pasted-on numbers in the upper right corners of the first pages of each item (a few of which have been cut off or become detached). It contains works by Purcell and Handel, as well as small groups of songs from some of the best known theatrical works of the day: Arsinoe, Love’s Triumph, Pyrrhus and Demetrius, and Thomyris.

The first part of the volume, numbers 1-51, also appears to have been a preexistent collection, although its unity is not as clear. The repertory overlaps considerably with that of the other collection (there is only one song duplicated, but they both contain excerpts from the same theatrical works), although some items date from as late as the early 1720s. The opening portion of this collection differs somewhat from the rest, as it appears to be a section of a manuscript book, not separate song sheets, probably copied around 1715; the pages are numbered from 1-31 [see items 1-11; images 0007-0022]. At least one further work, number 15 [images 0025-0026] appears to have come from the same manuscript, and bears the page numbers 64-67 (some items may be added to this list; paper and handwriting studies are still being conducted).

Items in the two main collections were trimmed differently (but fairly consistently within each collection), and then trimmed again when bound. At the time of binding, most likely, the collector added a few later works to the end, items 100-103, datable from 1745 to 1759.