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WHEN FIRST I SAW (THEE GRACEFUL MOVE). English, Air (2/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The melody is a the air to a popular love song first appearing in John Watts’ Musical Miscellany, vol. 4 (London, 1730), and subsequently published in Henry Roberts’ British Harmony, vol. 1 (London, 1758), and Robert Horsfield’s Vocal Music; or the Songster’s Companion (London, 1775) . It also appeared in Longman and Broderip’s New Instructions for the French Horn (1785), Joseph Hill’s Compleat Tutor for the German Flute (London, c. 1762), and Preston’s New and Compleat Instructions for the Hautboy (London, 1780). The melody appears in America in publisher John McCulloch’s Philadelphia Songster (1789), Daniel Wright’s American Musical Miscellany (Northampton, Mass., 1798), and Samuel Holyoke’s Instrumental Assistant (Exeter, N.H., 1800). In manuscript form, it appears in Massachusetts musician’s manuscript copybook of 1790, and keyboardist Sally Pickman’s copybook of 1785 (Salem, Mass.).

The vocal air version was often sung as a duet. The song is often attributed to Caterine Galli—Signora Galli—(c. 1723-1804) a mid-18th century mezzo-soprano of the London stage, a pupil and favourite of composer George Frideric Handel. She had come to England in 1743, debuted in the composer’s Joseph and his Brethren, 1744, and became a staple performer for many of his subsequent works, such as Acis and Galetia, 1749, and Judas Maccabaeus, 1747. She left England in 1754 but returned in 1773 to appear in Sacchini’s Lucio Vera, and remained in London until her death. In 1797, being in “distressed circumstances” she sang at the age of 74 again in a revival of Judas at Covent Garden. Unfortunately, the appearance of the melody in Watt’s Miscellany in 1730 (words only, directed to be sung to the tune of “All in a hedge”) much predates her arrival in England, and the attribution may have been made because of song-sheets featuring her name as having sung the song at “publick gardens” in London.

Caterine is also remembered for her supporting role in the murder-scandal of April 7, 1779, when she went to the theatre accompanied by her friend Martha Ray, for sixteen years the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich (the First Lord of the Admiralty). They were at Covent Garden to see a double-feature of the operas Rose and Colin and Love in a Village. At the conclusion of the performance they left with the crowds, but just as Ray was to step into her carriage she was shot dead by a spurned lover, Rev. James Hackman, who then tried to shot himself with a second pistol. He did not succeed with his second shot and only wounded himself slightly; but, if death by suicide was thwarted, death by hanging was not, and he met his end at Tyburn, after which his body was given to the medical school for dissection.

When first I saw thee graceful move.
Ah me, what meant my throbbing breast
Say, soft confusion, art thou Love!
If Love thou art – then farewell rest.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Mattson& Walz (Old Fort Snelling…Fife), 1974; p. 91.

Recorded sources:

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