Romantic National Song Network

About the Project

The Romantic National Song Network (PI Prof Kirsteen McCue, Co Director of CRBS) ran from March 2017 to August 2019. It was generously supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and involved a number of collaborative partnerships including those with the British Library, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the Society for Musicology in Ireland.

Bringing together literary scholars, musicologists, cultural historians, book historians and collection specialists, the network explored the national songs from all four corners of the British Isles which were published with music for performance across the period 1750-1850. It also explored the appearance of a new kind of 'British' song at this time. 

The term ‘Romantic’ is widened here from the usual literary term meaning the period 1780-1830 and the musicological term meaning the period 1820-1900. By choosing the century 1750 to 1850 the network covered a time when printed song established itself and developed significantly, as the practice of performing songs at home became more commonplace. ‘Song’ refers particularly to published song texts with music, thus focusing on how editors and publishers were encouraging both professional and amateur performance of these songs. The project was not concerned with the exciting and rich field of demotic song culture and popular cheap print of songs, but rather with the growing middle-class consumption of songs.

At this time of great political upheaval, the four nations of the British Isles (and many European nations) were actively collecting and disseminating what was presented to the public as ‘National Song’. While work has been done on some individual writers, composers and editors/publishers, there is still considerable confusion about the meaning of the term ‘National Song’ and little understanding of the relationships between the living song cultures of the British nations during this time. Bringing together scholars working in literature and language, musicology, history, history of the book, and performance history, the network mapped the field bibliographically, exploring where these songs were published and performed to establish how they shaped public perceptions of the different national cultures of the British Isles.

The project included a number of network meetings and performance events in London and Glasgow and supported a small research project which ran from March 2017 until the Spring of 2019. The RNSN website presents a foundation for further study in this area, and includes a range of 'song stories' or 'biographies of songs' and a number of invited Blogs from scholars working in the field of British national song during this period. A little series of ‘song stories’ from each nation was also created, articulating the popularity and the often-complex biographies of popular songs performed during the century. The network culminated with a major performance event at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, with young singers from the four nations bringing a selection of these songs to life on 18 March.