Biography:Nathaniel Gow

Find traditional instrumental music

Nathaniel Gow


 Given name:     Nathaniel
 Middle name:     
 Family name:     Gow
 Place of birth:     Inver, Perthshire
 Place of death:     Edinburgh
 Year of birth:     1763
 Year of death:     1831
 Profile:     Collector, Composer, Editor, Engraver, Musician, Publisher
 Source of information:

Biographical notes

John Glen, The Glen Collection of Scottish Dance Music, Book 2 (1895, p. x, "Biographical Sketches" [1]):

NATHANIEL GOW. Nathaniel Gow, the fourth (not as often stated the youngest) son of Niel Gow and Margaret Wiseman, was born at Inver, 28th of May, 1763, not, as erroneously given, 1766. He followed his father's profession and was a violinist, likes a composer of Scottish Music of deserved repute. He is said to have received his first lessons in violin playing from his father, who taught him on a small instrument called a Kit, which was extensively used in former days by dancing masters, when giving lessons at their pupils' residences: which instrument is said to have been the same his father made use of when he began to learn the violin, and is still retained in the family. In a biographical notice by Joseph M'Gregor, accountant in Edinburgh, it is said that Nathaniel Gow was sent at an early age to Edinburgh for tuition under Robert Mackinsosh, otherwise known as "Red Rob," which fact cannot be disputed, because Mackintosh was residents in Edinburgh in the year 1766; but that he continued to be taught by that individual until he went to London, and that he afterwards received instruction from Alexander M'Glashan, who was the leader of the fashionable assemblies, and a highly respected person as well as an excellent musician (to whom was applied the sobriquet of "King M'Glashan," from his majestic and stately appearance, and his showy style of dress), can easily be shown to be an entire misstatement of facts. Robert Mackintosh did not remove from Edinburgh before 1803, by which time Nathaniel Gow was forty years of age; besides, M'Glashan died in 1797, six tears before Red Rob's removal to London. The same writer informs us that Nathaniel Gow's first professional appearance was as a violoncello player, in the band that M'Glashan conducted, and subsequent to the death of the latter, Nathaniel Gow's brother, William, became M'Glashan's successor, and held the appointment till his death in 1791. The fact of Nathaniel's first professional appearance may be perfectly correct, bu the latter statement is without foundation. M'Glashan probably retired from the leadership only, as it is an ascertained fact that William Gow predeceased him by six years.

At what date Nathaniel Gow came to Edinburgh cannot now be ascertained, but in August 1782, when in his twentieth year, he received his commission as Herald Trumpeter, a post that he continued to hold during the remainder of his life, by officiating personally and by deputy, the remuneration in his time averaging about 80, thought the Crown salary was, and still is 16,16s. 4d. per annum. In 1786, he apparently became a householder, as appears from the entry in Peter Williamson's Diretory for 1786-88--"Nathaniel Gow, Musician, Bailie Fyfe's Close." In the latter year he seems to have removed, as the address given on the title page of his father's Second Collection, published in 1788, is "within the head of Halkerston's Wynd." The Third Collection title page shews he has returned to Bailie Fyfe's Close, 1792. In 1795, he gave a Concert in connection with the Volunteer Corps, in which he held the appointment of Bandmaster, and probably repeated another the following year. From 1797 onwards, he was in the habit of giving an Annual Ball. The first two announcements for this and the following , however, state, "in place of a Concert," and whether afterwards he ever gave a concert, the editor has been unable to discover. It is most likely that his fame was principally due to his performance of dance music. In 1802, Messrs Corri and Urbani, two celebrated musicians residing in Edinburgh, who had been in the habit of giving concerts conjunctly, which were carried on harmoniously for some years, quarreled about their arrangements. The local members of their orchestra sided with the one or the other, and a newspaper war was the result. During the quarrel this advertisement appeared on the 18th of November: "The following musicians state that Urbani took upon himself to speak for the musicians in general, to which they did not assent. (Signed by ) G. Schetky, Richd. Barnard, John Barnard, G. Muschat, J. Thomson, Robt. Ross, Nath. Gow, John Clarkson jun., William Naiper, Alex. Napier, Charles Stewart, Francis Gardner, C.F. Harmann, and the rest of Lord Dalkeith's Band--Edinburgh, 17th November 1802."

Urbani, in replying to the advertisement, says: "With the exception of Mr. Schetky, however, the appellation (principal musicians) would certainly be improperly applied to the persons who subscribe the advertisement, however, respectable they may be as individuals, and useful in the subordinate parts of the orchestra."

Nathaniel Gow is treated consequently as a subordinate by Urbani, wand whether or not deservedly so, the readers are left to draw their own conclusions. Nathaniel Gow had many patrons, including the Duke of Athole, who had great influence, and apparently led the fashionable world, and also the Nobility and Gentleen of the Caledonian Hunt about the end of last and beginning of this century, to whom he probably owed much of his success.

To Nathaniel Gow's name there have been no fabulous stories attached, such as are associated with the name of this father. An incident may be noticed in his private life that is not generally known, and is not stated in any former biographical notice. In 1812 he was sudden in the Court of Session by Mary Hogg, for breach of promise of marriage, and was found liable in seven hundred pounds damages, besides full expenses of process. He afterwards married the lady, who was his second wife. The following announcement appeared in an Edinburgh newpaper, on 1st September 1814: "At Edinburgh, on the 30th ult., by the Reverend Dr. Simpson, Mr. Nathaniel Gow, Queen Street, to Mary, youngest daughter of Mr. Willaim Hogg, Prestonpans."

Nath. Gow began business in 1796, in partnership with William Shepherd, under the designation of Gow & Shepherd, at 41 North Bridge. In the announcement, Shepherd is described as a young man versant in music, and the management of the business was apparently entrusted to him. They removed to No. 16 Princes Street, where Gow had taken up his abode in 1801, and ten years later the street was renumbered, and No. 16 was changed to No. 40. The business was very extensive, perhaps more so thantaat enjoyed by any similar establishment before or in his own time in Scotland. The success which attended it for about sixteen years, apparently fell off with the illness that terminated in the death of Shepherd, January 1812, after which it was seemingly neglected by those to whom the management was entrusted. Another circumstance which probably might account for the business declining after the death of Gow's partner, was the fact of the shop No. 41 being occupied by Natale Corri, who, in 1812, advertised the sale of his stock previous to giving up the premises. Nath, Gow, however, carried on his business till the beginning of 1814, when there was discovered a considerable deficiency, for which he had to account. He wound up by selling off by auction the whole stock of his music and musical instruments, on 1st March 1814, and following days. He resumed business a few years later, August 1818, in company with his son Niel Gow, jun., under the style of Nath. Gow & Son, at 60 Princes Street, where they remained for about five years. They removed the to No. 7 Hanover Street, and in 1823 his son died.

In May of the following year, he announces his return to 60 Princes Street, still under the firm of Nath. Gow & Son, which was changed afterwards to that of Gow & Galbraith, in February 1826, consequent on his having assumed as partner, "Mr. J. Murray Galbraith," a tuner from Messrs. Broadwood's, London. The partnership was dissolved on 31st October, after lasting only some eight months. Gow's bankruptcy was advertised 5th May 1827, and in the following month another advertisement appeared, announcing the sale of the stock of music, &c., also of his heritable property at No. 2 Hanover Street, where he resided, and conducted his music teaching, likewise a notice stating that his examination would be held in the Sheriff-clerk's office, on the 5th and 26th July.

In Joseph M'Gregor's memoir, already referred to, the information is supplied, that he was forced to appeal to his old patrons and friends for their support, at a ball for his behoof, in March 1827, which he did by the following circular (probably private, as no advertisement appeared in the same terms): "When I formerly addressed my kind patrons and the public, I hand no other claim than that which professional men generally have, whose exertions are devoted to the public amusement. By a patronage the most unvarying and flattering, I was placed in a situation of comfortable independence, and I looked forward without apprehension to passing the decline of my days in the bosom of my family, with competence and with happiness. Unfortunately for me, circumstances have changed. By obligations for friends, and losses in trade, my anxious savings have been gradually wasted, till now, when almost bed-rid, unable to leave my house, or to follow my profession, I am forced to surrender the remnant of my means to pay my just and lawful creditors. In this situation, some generous friends have stepped forward and persuaded me, that the recollection of my former efforts to please may not be so entirely effaced, so as to induce the public to think that my day of distress should pass without notice, or without sympathy."

A public advertisement also appeared in the following terms:--"Gow's Ball--For Behoof of his Family, Henry, and Public of Scotland, respectfully mentions, that many of his old and respected Patrons, sympathizing in the change of circumstances, which a series of ruinous losses has produced in his situation, have strongly urged him once more to appeal to his former numerous friends and supporters in behalf of his family. They have persuaded him, that though he comes forward now, at the close of a long and active career, without the power of contributing to the public amusement, yet that the memory of his past efforts may be strong enough to procure for him a renewal of their generous countenance, when left in his old age, from unavoidable misfortunes, with nothing of all their long continued patronage and bounty but the remembrances of a grateful heart."

"To-morrow, the 13th Matrch," &c. (the Program follows).

It is said that one time he was worth at least £20,000, which he had gained by his balls, teaching, and playing, and that it was questionable if he ever derived any profit from his most extensively patronized trade in music and musical instruments. Such a statement as the latter may be doubted, for if this was the case, it is unlikely that the partnership with Wm. Shepherd would have lasted for a period of over fifteen years, and the result would have deterred him from trading in the same line at a future period. It is far more reasonable to think, that after his partner's death, the trade deficiencies arose from the business being left to servants to conduct, while Gow attended to other concerns.

His appeal was largely responded to, and the ball proved a great success: the proceeds from it were said to have been nearly £300. Three annual balls followed, and though not so remunerative as the first, they nevertheless yielded considerable sums, and in addition to these sums, the noblemen and gentlemen of the Caledonian Hunt voted from their funds the sum of fifty pounds yearly for the remainder of his life. An attempt was also made to raise a subscription, in order to give him an annuity of £200, but the scheme failed, though its chief promoter is said to have bestowed on him annually a very generous gift.

It is certain, that from 1791, when he succeeded his brother William in the leadership of the Assembly Balls, his band was considered the finest in the country, and received the principal engagements from the nobility and gentry, not only on public but also on private occasions. From the band being so frequently employed, the emoluments derived from it must have been of considerable value.

On the visit of His Majesty George IV, to to Scotland, in 1822, Nathaniel Gow furnished the band for the banquet at Dalkeith Palace, held in honor of His Majesty, and there the king expressed to him the pleasure he had received from its delightful performances. It is stated that Mr. Gow, during his latter days, enjoyed a pension from George IV. In fashionable circles, when arrangements were being made for parties, ti was quite common for those who wished to secure his band, to make inquiries to know if Gow was disengaged, in order that the might fix, alter or postpone the date to suit his convenience. As formerly stated, Nath. Gow gave or had annual balls. These continued from 1797 onwards (with one exception, 1826), and were, till the year of his death, usually held in March. A notice of one given in 181 has, "Mr. Gow's rout (we cannot call it a ball, there being no dancing) on Tuesday, was as usual crowded, with all the beauty and fashion in and about the metropolis." At his ball in 1811, he was presented by the Earl of Dalhousie with a massive silver goblet, the gift of that nobleman, and again he had, from Sir Patrick Murray of Ochtertyre, given to him a valuable violin-cello, and from Sir Alexander Don, an excellent Italian violin. The generosity of his friends about that time was probably well deserved.

Nath. Gow is said to have had many pupils for the violin, as well as for pianoforte accompaniment from whom he derived large fees. As an instance of this, he gave a lesson once a week at Dalkeith Palace, a distance of six miles from the city, for which he was paid two guineas and traveling expenses. From all these different sources, he could not fail to secure a very lucrative income.

It cannot be supposed that Nath. Gow lived on the best of terms with his brother musicians, as may be seen from the following circumstances. The only instances in which any compositions by Robert Mackintosh appeared in the Gow publications, are "Lady Hamilton Dalrymple," in the Fourth Collection (1800), p. 23; "Lady Wallace (1)," and "Lady Charlotte Campbell's Reel (2)/Lady Charlotte Campbell's Strathspey (2)," in the Second Repository (1802), pp. 14 and 31, and "Lady Betty Boyle," in the Third Repository (1806), p. 32, and in all cases excepting the last, Mackintosh's name is suppressed. The same treatment was given to Robert Petrie. There is no tune of his to be found in Gow's Collections, Repositories, and Beauties, except "Mrs. Garden of Troup's Strathspey," which, although well known to be Petrie's, appears only in the First Repository unacknowledged. Another tune which has been claimed by Petrie, is in the Second Repository, p. 1, where it is called "Honest Duncan." Gow prefixes no composer's name to it, and it might have been intended for a doubtful compliment bestowed on Duncan Macintyre. Macintyre is supposed to have died about 1807, though that has not been confirmed. A song by James Hogg, or at least contained in his Forest Minstrel, 1810 (but may have been written earlier), is named "Honest Duncan," and sings to the air. It might have suggested the name to Nath. Gow. The tune is found in a Collection of Slow Airs, Reels, and Strathspeys, composed by Duncan Macintyre, under the title of "Miss Downie's Strathspey." It also appears in Robert Petrie's Third Collection, as "Garden Shiel." The editor has had copies of that collection containing the list of subscribers, in some of which Petrie had not placed his name to the tune, and in others it was printed or stamped, as if the omission was a mistake. Of these two latter Collections, Macintyre's, bearing water-mark 1795, appears to be the earlier, Petrie's paper having water-mark 1802. Of course these facts do not prove that the publications appeared immediately after the paper was made, so that no year can be assigned to either which circumstance prevents the question being solved as to whether the tune was composed by Macintyre or Petrie, although the claim by the latter is very doubtful.

It is difficult to account for some of the claims made by Nath. Gow. The following will serve as examples: A year of so after Malcolm M'Donald issued his Second Collection, and had supplied his subscribers, there appeared another edition of it, bearing on its title page, "Corrected by Niel Gow," in which are four tunes ascribed to Niel (the first being a composition by his son William), and five to Nathaniel. The "corrections" are limited to one note in a tune called "Recovery (The)," and two notes in its bass. The title page likewise announces Gow's First and Second Collections, which fact points probably to Gow having purchased the work from M'Donald, who had then become Niel's bass player. The strangest omission in that collection, however, is, that if any of the Gows composed "Mrs. Drummond of Perth's Strathspey," they did not then claim it. It appeared in the first edition of their Third Collection, 1792, without any claim, and remained so till the second edition bearing the water-mark 1807, when Niel Gow's name is prefixed to it, in all likelihood after his death (he died on 1st March, 1807), and certainly after that of M'Donald, who predeceased him. "Wha can help it," is a claim of Niel's in the corrected edition of M'Donald's, bu tin non of the Gow publications did the tune appear till the Sixth Collection, and there considerably altered. The next in the same Collection claimed by Niel, is called "Miss Ferguson of Raith's Strathspey," which never appeared in any of theirs, and the fourth , named "Lawers House," published by Nathaniel in the Fifth Collection, 1809, but more probably in 1810. "Callam's Frollock" is claimed by Nathaniel, but never appears in any of their works; the second, "Mrs. Landle's Delight," likewise; "Greenend Park," or otherwise called "Lady Shaftsbury's Strathspey," is claimed in the Third Collection, first edition, 1792; "Mrs. Duncan's Reel" is not claimed before the publication of their Fourth Collection, 1800; the fifth or last claim, "Honorable Captain Maitland's Strathspey," is found in the Second Complete Repository, first edition, 1802, but is unclaimed. M'Donald's original edition of his Second Collectionwas published in 1789. "Mrs. Graham of Orchill's Strathspey," remains the same in the so-called corrected one, having the signature of G major, although the tune is in D minor, one flat, but would require a natural placed before the B contained in it, and not a single F, though the latter is necessary in the bass. "Earl of Egin's Strathspey (The)," by "Miss Stirling," has still the signature of G major, though it is in D major. Similarly, "Mrs. Dr. Stewart's Reel" contains one crotchet too many in the last bar, first part, and still remains unaltered. The first edition of Niel Gow's Third Collection bears, on page 36, "Nath. Gow hopes it will not appear ostentatious for prefixing his name to the tunes composed by himself, having seen several of them published lately under fictitious names , and in a very incorrect manner." This observation was removed from all the later editions. Was it the sense of his own guilt in that way, or the sarcasm of his fellow-musicians directed against his shortcomings, that accounts for the erasure? In every edition he has placed the names of his brothers, William and Andrew, to their compositions; the following individuals, for their tunes, have also received recognition: Mr. Sharpe of Hoddom, Miss Johnston of Hilton, Lord Macdonald, Miss Sharpe, and Mr. Nisbet of Dirleton. Wads it his modesty that prevented him from claiming till the second edition five tunes for his father? He likewise states, on the first page of the same collection, that "The tunes not composed by him, are published by the authority of the different composers, which induced him to secure the book in Stationers' Hall, according to the Act of Parliament." Was it intended that the remaining tunes were to pass as the compositions of Niel Gow, "The Author", as he is styled on the title pages of the four earliest collections, but which authorship is removed in the second edition? Did he get permission from Mr. Wm. Marshall for "Lady Madelina Palmer's Strathspey," which he calls "Mr. Lumsdane of Blanerne's Strathspey"? In a Collection published by Charles Duff, Dundee, if not before Gow's, at least as early, three tunes, "Miss Hunter of Burnside," "Mr. Gray of Carse," and "Braes of Aberarder," become in Gow's edition respectively "Mrs. MacDowal Grant," "Lady Grace Douglas's Reel," and "Lady Madelina Sinclair;" of these he claims the first, and in the second edition he puts his father's name to "Lady Grace Douglas's Reel."