Thomson Manuscript

Location: GB-En

Reference: MS 2833

Date: 1702

Size: Oblong octavo

Extent: 73 folios


Early eighteenth-century manuscript predominantly for recorder or violin, with some pieces for keyboard and bass viol. The manuscript was purchased by the NLS in 1937 from Davidson Cook (1874–1941), who also provided a typed commentary, now held as MS 2834.

The manuscript is in good condition, with probably an eighteenth-century leather binding, and is paginated apart from the opening flyleaf. The manuscript gained its title from the name “James Thomson” written three times on the opening flyleaf, along with the date “25 November 1702” and the words “King Army”. It is likely that the manuscript was compiled over a long space of time, perhaps c. 1700-1730, and certainly there are pieces only published after 1702, such as Thomas Dean’s violin tutor (1713) and music from the play Phaedra and Hyppolitus (1709). Stell suggests that Thomson might have had a background as a military musician, given the inscription to “King[’s] army” and the appearance of several trumpet tunes. McGrattan further points out the identity of several other musicians with the same surname, including the Scottish state trumpeter and violinist Daniel Thomson, and the town wait John Thomson (d. 1682).

The manuscript contains some 149 pieces, ranging between popular tunes from Scotland and England, English court and theatre music – including an unattributed sequence of five tunes from John Alnott’s music for the play Phaedra and Hyppolitus – and numerous unattributed sonata movements. There are many “flourishes” or short preludes for violin, many by Thomas Dean, taken from his collection The Complete tutor, to the violin […] by Mr. [Thomas] Dean (London, 1713). Other preludes seem to have had a didactic function, tending to introduce pieces in the same key. Also significant are several pieces which seem to be intended to introduce different styles of ornamentation, including an anonymous Adagio on p. 82 where an alternate embellished version is given above the stave.

The manuscript seems to have been used for several instruments. On the verso side of the second fly leaf is a tuning chart seemingly for treble recorder. It is also likely that the tunes on the first 45 pages are all for that instrument, given their higher range than is standard for violin tunes. A selection of pieces on pages 46-50 are given in two staves, probably intended for keyboard. From p. 52 onwards, it is likely that the pieces were primarily intended for the violin, including the “flourishes” by Thomas Dean, several pieces incorporating double stopping, and one piece marked “for two violins”. A single piece within the manuscript is in bass clef and marked as being for two bass viols (though only one part is given), and numerous pieces are arrangements for two trebles.

Stell describes the scripts in detail, noting that there are as many as eighteen different scripts, including a variety of professional and amateur hands.


McGrattan, The Trumpet in Scotland, II, 318.

Stell, Sources, 203-214.

Links: NLS Catalogue

View this manuscript's tunes in the full tune index