Lovely Nancy (1)

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LOVELY NANCY [1]. English, Air and Waltz (3/4 time). G Major (Barnes, Kennedy, Oswald, Raven): E Flat Major (Chappell). Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB (most versions): AABBCCDD (Callaghan): AABBCCDDEEFFGGHHIIJJ (Oswald). This popular air appears in the 18th century ballad opera The Jovial Crew when it was revived in February, 1760 (but not in the original 1731 play). It was added after the first performance, according to the English musicologist William Chappell (1859), with the words below being sung by the female beggars. Waltz versions, of course, are a later adaptation of the air.

John Glen (Early Scottish Melodies, 1900) and Purser (1992) attributed the tune to the Scottish composer and publisher James Oswald [1] (1710–1769), who included it in his Caledonian Pocket Companion (vol. II, c. 1745), although Chappell would only credit the variations to him. It also appears previous in Oswald's Curious Scots Tunes for a Violin and Flute (1742), albeit with no claim to authorship. Chappell concluded: "I have seen many half-sheet copies of the song 'Lovely Nancy' but never with an author's name, and I doubt whether any one could properly claim it, fir it seems to be only an alteration of 'Ye virgins so pretty'." Glen also finds the song in Calliope, or English Harmony (1739, p. 176) under the title "Strephon's Complaint", which begins "How can you, Lovely Nancy." It is the same air, although Glen believes it was contributed to the collection by Oswald before he left Edinburgh.

A hugely popular melody, "Lovely Nancy" was printed in numerous mid-18th century collections and tutors, such as Longman's Compleat Instructions for the German Flute (1796), Thompson's Compleat Tutor for the French Horn (1755), and Calliope, or English Harmony (1746). "Lovely Nancy" even can be heard today on a musical clock made by Joseph Ellicott in Bucks County, Pa., around the 1770's. It was employed by the British military in America as a signal for retreat (Purser, 1992) [Ed.: note that' retreat' meant the ceasing of the days activities in the evening at camp, not a withdraw from combat], and was similarly employed by American fifers in the Revolutionary War (Keller, 1992). It appears in many American musician's copybooks of the period (and nearly all surviving fifers manuscripts from the War for Independence), such as those of Captain George Bush, Giles Gibbs (1760-1780), fluter Henry Beck, Abel Joslens, Thomas Nixon (1762-1842, Framingham, Ct.) and John Greenwood, as well as that of Henry Livingston, Jr. The latter purchased the estate of Locust Grove, Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1771 at the age of 23. In 1775 he was a Major in the 3rd New York Regiment, which participated in Montgomery's invasion of Canada in a failed attempt to wrest Québec from British control. An important land-owner in the Hudson Valley, and a member of the powerful Livingston family, Henry was also a surveyor and real estate speculator, an illustrator and map-maker, and a Justice of the Peace for Dutchess County. He was also a poet and musician, and presumably a dancer, as he was elected a Manager for the New York Assembly's dancing season of 1774-1775, along with his 3rd cousin, John Jay, later U.S. Chief Justice of Governor of New York. "Lovely Nancy" with variation sets was entered into the music copybook of American musician M.E. Eames, frontispiece dated Aug. 22nd, 1859 (Eames was probably from Philadelphia.

A number of English musicians penned "Lovely Nancy" in their copybooks as well, including William Clarke (Lincoln, 1770), William Tyldesley (Swinton, Lancashire, c. 1860), John Winder (Wyresdale, Lancashire, 1789), Benjamin Cooke (Leeds, west Yorkshire, c. 1770), John Clare (Helpstone, Northants, 1821), and James Winder (Wyresdale, Lancashire, 1835). Turn of the 19th century fifer John Buttery, of the 37th Regiment, entered it into his large music manuscript collection to be used for a retreat march (i.e. signalling the end of the day's military activities).

Sets of words set to the tune are several. A few begin:

Can nothing, Sir, move you,
Our sorrows to mend;
Have you nothing to give, Sir,
Have you nothing to lend?
My heart does so heave,
I'm afraid it will break;
Of victuals we've scarce had
A morsel this week. ..... [from the ballad opera Jovial Crew]

Four lines of the original words were printed by Walsh in his Select Aires for the Guitar, etc.:

How can you, lovely Nancy, this cruelly slight
A swain who is wretched when banish'd your sight?
Who for your sake alone thinks life worth his care,
But which soon, if you frown on, must end in despair.

Source for notated version: the music manuscript of Captain George Bush (1753?-1797), a fiddler and officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution [Keller].

Printed sources: Barnes ('English Country Dance Tunes, vol. 2), 2005; p. 78. Callaghan (Hardcore English), 2007; p. 85. Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Times), vol. 2, 1859; pp. 162-163. Christian (A Playford Assembly), 2015; p. 63. Keller (Fiddle Tunes from the American Revolution), 1992; p. 17. Kennedy (Fiddlers Tune Book), vol. 1, 1951; No. 72, p. 35. Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, Book 2), 1760, pp. 2-3. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 136.

Recorded sources: New World Records 80276-2, "Music of the American Revolution: The Birth of Liberty."




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