Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Mystery of 18th century music book

The music in the songbook, such as A Trumpet Air and Auld Robin Gray, were not written by Hugh Cameron but copied from a book of popular Scottish music

Historians are trying to trace the mysterious author of an 18th century music album that has been discovered in a library archive.

The untitled, leather-bound songbook was found by an archivist sorting through a catalogue of collections in the Watt Library in Greenock, Inverclyde.

The inside cover is signed by a Hugh Cameron and dated 1709 and it also contains poems, a book list and a series of religious writings.

The music, such as A Trumpet Air and Auld Robin Gray, were not written by Cameron but copied from a book of popular Scottish music. Cameron's book has been described as an early example of a music album - a copy of music that can be performed by the owner at their leisure.

An expert from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has studied the unusual find and hopes to find out more about the person who wrote it.

Karen McAulay, music librarian at the Conservatoire, said: "A lot of the pieces in the manuscript have been copied out of one particular book.

"There was a publisher in Glasgow called Aird around that time and they published a series of books with fiddle tunes, mainly from Scotland but some from other countries as well, and when you go through this book you find that quite a lot of the tunes are from that one single volume (of the Aird book).

"These days you can quickly copy down with a photocopier or buy an album, but hundreds of years ago what you did was write your favourite tunes out and that's exactly what this gentleman has done."

The book is now going on display in the McLean Museum inside the library alongside other items from the archive, such as the Greenock Autograph Book which contains letters from Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin.

Library archivist Neil Dickson discovered the songbook last month when he was preparing the new display for Inverclyde Council.

He said: "The only reason it was found was because I was cataloguing the records which had previously never been catalogued before. We discovered the songbook and straight away I realised it was something special.

"It's very unique and I always feel privileged to be doing the job I am and to make discoveries like this, because it's essentially history that's been untouched and it's our job to explore and make it available, and hopefully we can find out more about the book and Hugh Cameron."

Little else is known about the author and the library hope local people will be interested in the story.

Ms McAulay has researched Mr Cameron but has been unable to pinpoint exactly where he was from.

She said: "My guess is that he was possibly a schoolmaster. I found out that there were several Hugh Camerons who were schoolmasters at that time, one in Perthshire, and it could have been him, but I can't be sure.

"What I can say is that he wasn't a Church of Scotland minister because he was not in the minister listings for that time.

"The book is dated 1709 and the handwriting of the signature is very young but the handwriting of the lists of books is more mature so that would have been when the same person was a bit older. It may be something he's added to over his life or it may be that a relative or someone else also used the book."

The display is part of a nationwide Explore Your Archive campaign which aims to get people interested in local history.

Mr Dickson said: "Archives are very important, it's essentially raw history.

"They're usually the only resources we have for getting a detailed description of people's life and society from the 17th century onwards.

"By searching through our archives in Inverclyde we've found some very, very special items and hopefully they can give people an insight in to the history of the area."

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