Readers of my blog will know that I am an enthusiastic explorer of Charity Shops, having made several very interesting discoveries in them. Yesterday was, perhaps, my best days hunting so far. I had stopped in Bridport, after a mornings exploration of several churches, with the intention of buying a pasty for lunch. Walking up the High Street towards the bakers I passed the Sue Ryder shop, glancing in I was delighted to find an original fashion plate of 1828. Very happy with this purchase I debated with myself whether to enter the Oxfam shop or not. Fortunately I did.
Lying on a shelf was a battered volume with a card label ‘Ancient Sheet Music £5”, I idly opened it expecting a collection of, at best, Victorian parlour songs. Immediately I knew it was much more interesting, the paper was soft linen paper, the ink brown with age (and because it was made with oak gall), the title pages printed from copper plates. It was what the label had said, a collection of individual printed pieces of music, songs, dances and instrumental pieces mostly for the piano, though a few were for the harp. None were dated though the dedications gave clues. There were references to the Duke of Clarence (who became William IV in 1830) and the Duchess of Kent, but no Duke he died in 1820. Then I saw one of the most infamous pieces of music of the period, naturally I didn’t hesitate but bought the book straight away. I never got a pasty as I wanted to head home and examine my prize in more detail.
The book is a large quarto volume, not in very good condition as the front cover is detached. It contains 54 separate items, each with an elaborate title page. It was an expensive collection as none of the music sheets were cheap, some are priced, and the prices range from 1/6 to 5 shillings (a farm labourers weekly wage was 7 shillings).
On the front is a label, Susanna Buck, who was the original owner. Miss Buck seems to have begun the collection when she was at school, as several sheets have the faint pencil inscription Mrs Waterhouse’s School – Music Prize – Miss Buck clearly she was a talented girl. Other pieces also bear Miss Buck’s name, I suspect that these may have been lent to her friends to copy, because of the cost it was normal to exchange music in this fashion. The volume was bound in Burnley, according to a paper label stuck in the back, so perhaps Susanna was a Lancastrian, other than that I can find no more about her from the book.
The collection begins with songs, old and new, older ones by Dr Arne as well as modern examples such as Home! Sweet Home! which was written in 1823.
Then there are a series of instrumental pieces, works by Mozart and Rossini to versions of songs such as Old Lang Syne.
These are followed by a series of dances, all described as ‘New’ or ‘The Latest’, which doubtless gave Miss Buck and her friends a great deal of pleasure.
Then tucked in the back is a piano manual, full of exercises, which this talented young lady may have used when she began to play.
This collection is typical of those that were made by musical people and families in the early nineteenth century. As musical tastes changed they fell out of use and it is rare for them to survive. I was therefore delighted to add the volume to my collections illustrating Georgian and Regency life.
Now at the beginning of the piece I mentioned that one piece was very notorious, this one, The Battle of Prague
The piece was very popular, it depicts a fictitious battle in which the various armies Prussian, Austrian, English and Turkish are all depicted in different styles which gives a skilled pianist a great opportunity to show their skill. What is unusual at this time is for the name of the composer, Frantisek Kotzwara (František Kocžwara ) to appear on the music. He was a Czech composer, and while his life wasn’t particularly scandalous, his death was.
In 1791 he visited a prostitute Susanna Hill, and after a heavy drinking session tied a ligature around his neck to ‘raise his passion’ – afterwards – he was dead! Susanna Hill was tried for his murder, and acquitted, both judge and jury believing her story that his death was accidental. The judge tried to suppress any account of his death as he feared it might encourage copycats, but one was published, and his death is now regarded as the first known case of auto-erotic asphyxiation.