Lost in translation

twitterThe UL (@theUL) recently received a query via Twitter from a bemused antiquarian book dealer: “We’ve got Haydn’s Canzonette Italienne. Have you heard of it?”

The answer was a resounding No! In fact no-one seemed to have heard of it, various Haydn societies had been canvassed, there was no sign of it in the Haydn thematic or in RISM or BUCEM. Great excitement – an unknown work, cue the paparazzi!

Then, of course, I thought to do what every musician should do at the beginning. Look at the music. And I knew it…. It’s not, I hasten to add, that I’m a Haydn expert, but My mother bids me bind my hair, also known as A pastoral song is one of his best known songs, the third of the first set of his English canzonettas (Hob. XXVIa:27.) . And this is what was masquerading under the title of Haydn’s Canzonette Italienne. But why had the name been changed? And why was it in Italian with a French title? Well, that’s an interesting little tale in itself.

The volume in the antiquarian book dealer’s hands was published in Paris : Chez Pleyel, 1797. Ignaz Pleyel, perhaps better known today as a composer, had been a student of Haydn’s, made a fortune out of a tour of London in which he vied for popularity with his old teacher, and then settled in Paris as a business man setting up a music publishing company that was to run for 40 years. By 1807 the Pleyels, father and son, had also started up a piano manufacturing business, which has just ceased trading.

The volume containing the “unknown” Haydn work also contained a number of items all published around the same date including works by Haydn, Mozart, Dussek and other popular names of the day, along with a selection of Pleyel’s works and arrangements. I would guess that the name change of one of Haydn’s best loved pieces was purely down to marketing.

In 1793 following the execution of Louis XVI, France declared war on Britain and the Dutch Republic. The French Revolutionary Wars were to continue intermittently over the next decade, finally ending at the Treaty of Amiens in 1802, only to re-emerge hydra-like the following year with the commencement of the Napoleonic wars.

First edition of Haydn's Canzonettas, signed bottom right by the composer. MR290.a.75.109.

First edition of Haydn’s Canzonettas, signed bottom right by the composer. MR290.a.75.109.
Copyright Cambridge University Library

This presented music publishers with a problem. How do you market music to a French audience who are not going to want to have anything to do with a work that has a hint of Englishness? Well, the simple thing to do is change it. My mother bids was first published in London by the author in 1794 with English words by Anne Hunter, the dedicatee. When it was re-printed in London in 1796 by Corri and Dussek it had acquired an additional set of Italian lyrics, presumably to appeal to a wider audience. And it was these lyrics that made it into the 1797 Pleyel edition recreating the work with minimal effort as an “Italian job”.

I did eventually find mention of the work, and a few others in the volume that were also believed lost, in Rita Benton‘s study of Pleyel’s publishing house Pleyel as music publisher : a documentary sourcebook of early 19th-century music. It would appear that the music that had turned up at the booksellers was a set of Journal de Pleyel published throughout 1797, hence presumably why there was both a wide selection of music, and that it had all been bound together fairly early in its history. It would have been wonderful to have found some unknown Haydn, but it nevertheless provided an interesting insight into a slice of music publishing history.


About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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