Between 1792 and his untimely death in 1796, Robert Burns engaged in a detailed correspondence with Edinburgh civil servant and song editor, George Thomson (1757-1851). Thomson had approached him with a commission to provide song texts initially for a large collection of Scottish National airs or tunes.
This fascinating and productive relationship has received little attention over the past two hundred years, with most editions of Burns's songs removing them from this original context. Thomson's role in editing Burns's texts, and in the 'branding' of Burns, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, has also received little detailed analysis. This new edition of Burns's songs for Thomson is the first to fully explore the nature of this collaboration, explaining the context for Thomson's masterplan and articulating clearly how Burns engaged, at all levels, with this project. It presents over 170 of Burns's songs as they appeared across Thomson's collections of Scottish, Welsh, and Irish airs for the first time since their original publications. Presenting both texts and music, it is the only time Burns's songs for Thomson's Select Collections have been examined and presented as a body of work.
Thomson's project, aimed at the growing middle classes and at performance in the drawing room and on the concert platform, presented Burns's songs amongst those by other poets of the period, including Walter Scott, Joanna Baillie, and Lord Byron. Moreover, Burns's songs were set to national airs with musical arrangements by eminent contemporary European composers including Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Each song in this new edition appears with detailed explanatory notes on this creative context, tracking the poet's and editor's conversations about songs and tunes, the changes made by Thomson to Burns's songs, and giving essential information about both the airs and their musical settings. There is a detailed account of Thomson's complicated bibliography and his 1805 'Glossary of the Scottish words' is included as an appendix, alongside a list of songs recommended by Burns but never published by Thomson.