Robert Kelsall Manuscript

Location: GB-En

Reference: MS 21716

Date: 1720 - 1730 [circa]

Extent: 143 folios


An extensive music manuscript, probably compiled by Robert Kelsall, whose signature is twice inscribed on the front endpaper, along with a verse (“Musick’s the balm of Love, it Charms Despair / Suspend’s the Smart and Softens Every Care’ and ‘Hark! what melodious Sound’s the Viol makes / When gentle Stroak’s the Sleeping Strings awakes”). The folios of the manuscript remain in very good condition, though the original soft leather binding is very worn. The manuscript is copied almost entirely in a single hand, probably that of Robert Kelsall himself, in a thin, but neat and confident script, largely lacking in errors or corrections. Three additional hands have copied a single piece each: a far later hand (and tune style) for a minuet for two violins on ff. 37v-38; a messier script using very thick nibbed pen for “The Entrance to the Dutch Skipper” on f. 49; and a slightly more modern, probably professional script for “Tweedside” on f. 98. The front endpaper is immediately followed by a full contents list, following the original page numbers. The pagination has been crossed out for folio numbers throughout the manuscript. The only non-musical item is a text written in Latin on ff. 119v-120, the first two pages reversed, and the second almost entirely missing, the page possibly scrubbed out.

The manuscript was purchased by the NLS in 1985, but otherwise there does not seem to be any traced provenance. Kelsall clearly had links to, or was possibly resident in Glasgow in the 1720s, with one piece entitled “Auld go teaver Set by mr McGibbon in Glasgow”. This otherwise unpublished violin setting of the pipe tune “The Old Gum’d Aiver” is presumably by the Scottish violinist and composer William McGibbon (1690-1755) in which case it was likely notated before McGibbon settled in Edinburgh (by c. 1726), or might have been by his father, the Glasgow violer Duncan McGibbon. The manuscript also features several unpublished tunes by a “Mr Ruthven”, possibly the Glasgow music teacher John Ruthven (fl 1717, d. 1732), who was awarded a £5 annual salary by the Glasgow Burgh Council in 1721, and made burgess and guild brother in 1726. Ruthven was the great-grandson of John, Third Earl of Gowrie, and was described as “a professor of music and a composer of some talent”.

The manuscript is written predominantly for violin, with several pieces specified for the instrument, and many featuring violinistic writing and double stops. Some tunes could also have been played by a wind instrument. There are several pieces arranged for two violins or violin and bass, and a few songs with words, some with bass.

The NLS record gives an approximate dating of 1735-1747, but by the manuscript’s musical contents the manuscript might be considerably earlier. By its enormous scope (652 pieces) the manuscript was probably compiled over a long space of time, probably from a combination of notated and aural sources. It contains a variety of popular tunes from England, Scotland, and Ireland (many with variations), country dance tunes, minuets and other court dances, theatre airs, trumpet and other military tunes, movements from sonatas, songs, and arrangements from operas. Certainly there is lots of material current in the early part of the century, including tunes taken from editions of Playford collections The Division Violin (1684-5), and The Dancing Master, as well as collections by Marsden (c. 1700), and Daniel Wright (1713). There is much repertoire by composers active in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century (e.g. Henry Purcell, Arcangelo Corelli, John Eccles, John Weldon, Richard Leveridge, William Croft, John Galliard, Nicola Matteis, Johann Christoph Pepusch). There are numerous pieces from early eighteenth-century music for the stage, such as several pieces by Handel, all premiered in the 1710s or 1720s, including selections from Water Music, Suite 2 in D Major (HWV 349), Ottone, re di Germania (HWV 15), Rodelinda (HWV 19), and Giulio Cesare (HWV 17). There are many Scots tunes with variations, but these largely lack elements of the Italianate style current in the 1730s and 1740s, and lack concordances with the printed Scottish music collections from this period. A dating of c. 1720-1730 is more realistic.


Cowan, Samuel, The Ruthven Family Papers (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. Ltd., 1912), 62.

Links: NLS Catalogue

View this manuscript's tunes in the full tune index