A virtuoso set of variations on the popular Scottish song 'The Lass of Peaty's Mill', scored for solo keyboard and strings.
Joseph Harris was born in Birmingham and spent most of his career working in theMidlands. His first collection of published music, Eight Songs, was published in Ludlow around 1771 when he was the parish organist there. Around this time, he collated a manuscript copy of Handel’s Messiah, now kept at the Lilly Library, Indiana University, which contains a large number of alternative versions of movements, probably as a result of connections with copyists and collectors in Oxford.1 The advertisement for his op. 2 set of keyboard quartets in 1774 described Harris as ‘Bac. Mus, organist in Birmingham’; his degree exercise ‘Milton’s Ode to May’, having been performed at Oxford the previous year. His op. 1 set of songs was published in two further editions (1773 and 1778), and he followed up this success with Twelve Songs, op. 3 in 1779. By this time, Harris was among the most prominent musicians in the region. In 1787 he was teaching Anne Boulton, the daughter of the wealthy and influential Birmingham industrialist, Matthew Boulton; the list of subscribers to his op. 1 set suggests he was the music teacher to numerous other prominent families in the town.
The present set of variations is taken from Harris’s op. 2: Six Quartettos for the harpsichord, organ, or piano-forte, two violins, & violoncello: to which are added six variations to the Lass of Peaty's Mill, preceded by the symphony & accompaniment of Geminiani. The specific indication of the appended set of variations to the six quartets may suggest that the work had been performed in public before publication. The appearance of Geminiani’s opening introduction to the Scottish song indicates that this version (which was first published in his A Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Music, 1749) was still popular 25 years later. Geminiani’s introduction is reproduced by Harris without alteration, save for a keyboard reduction in the solo part. In the succeeding set of variations Harris utilizes a number of advanced keyboard techniques (e.g. hand crossing) and varies the scoring, time signature and mode, but these techniques are unremarkable for the time.
Although the main title page of Six Quartettos does not refer to the expanded scoring of the set of variations, it is clear that a performance of the piece should include the additional instruments. The viola part is included in the violino secondo part-book, and in the violoncello part book, either a bassoon or additional cello is required for the statement of the main theme, between bar 27 and 44. The theme here is stated in the treble (played by the keyboard and violin primo) doubled an octave below by the bassoon (or violoncello 1), but no material will be wanting if this additional bass part is missed out. Indeed, as the keyboard part plays thematic material and accompaniment throughout the whole work, it could be performed as a solo piece without the concertante instruments if desired.
Harris - Variations on The Lass of Peaty's Mill. Digital Download.
Scoring: Solo keyboard (harpsichord, organ or piano), 2 violins, viola, cello, bassoon (or cello 1).
Contents: Full score, solo keyboard, violin 1, violin 2, viola, cellos.
Total pages: 49
File size: 2.2MB
Work duration: 6'
Catalogue number: CK0050