[American Music] Gifford, Isaac. (1772-1843)

Decorated Tenor Partbook from Early American Fa-Sol-La Tradition, dated 1797

Autograph musical manuscript, dated 1797, approx. 70 pp., handwritten in ink throughout, followed by additional blank leaves and containing nearly 50 songs in total (with titles such as "French tune", "London tune", "York tune", "Dundee tune", "Dublin tune", "Martyrs tune", "Aby tune", "Newton tune", St. David's tune", etc.), consisting of a combination of popular tunes from the period and apparently original compositions penned by Isaac Gifford. Entries are embellished throughout the book with assorted decorative border patterns painstakingly hand-drawn by Gifford. 3.75 × 6.5 inches (9.5 × 16.5 cm), leather-backed paper-covered boards. Cover worn and partially detached, some loose leaves, one leaf lacking, scattered staining and minor tearing, mild toning, ink bold and legible throughout. A fascinating early American manuscript music book kept by Isaac Gifford of Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, founded just ten years previous, in 1787. 

This manuscript is an early witness of the American singing tradition that encompassed shape-note singing and the Sacred Harp. The present collection is a partbook for the “tenner” or tenor voice, which in this tradition sang the melody in the middle of a texture, harmonized by higher and lower voices. Its notation was designed for readers and singers who possessed differing kinds of musical literacy. Instead of note heads, the letters F, S, L, and M were written on a five-line staff: the whole-step syllables fa-sol-la repeated within the octave, along with the half-step syllable mi. In the present manuscript, a single tune is given on each opening of the book: the musical staff with letter notation on the right (recto) and the metrical verse text on the left (preceding verso). Most texts are iambic (weak-strong syllable pairs; This regular meter allowed for interchangeability among texts and melodies; for instance, no. 44, Rochester, sets the well-known text of "Joy to the World" to a different tune. Many texts meditate upon devotional themes, including death and grace, although not for singing in worship; the collection also includes love songs and songs with profane references, such as tobacco (no. 30) and Virgil (no. 40). Unpaginated with numbered tunes. Two gaps in tune numbering (between nos. 4 and 6; and nos. 44 and 47) suggest scribal error or lacking leaves.

The compiler of this manuscript was born in New Jersey and spent most of his life in Tell Township, Pennsylvania. Historical records indicate he and his wife Sarah Cluggage Gifford (1781–1827) had eleven children, some whose names appear in the book towards the end. Isaac Gifford's ownership inscription to front flyleaf indicates he purchased the volume from noted merchant Peter Swoope [aka Swope] (1763–1839) in the borough of Huntingdon. Swoope was "engaged in the merchandising and the iron business, and accumulated a nice fortune." (see History of the Swope Family and Their Connections, 1678–1896 by Gilbert Ernest Swope, 1896, p. 364). The borough of Huntingdon had just been incorporated the previous year, in 1796. Isaac Gifford traversed a distance of about 35 miles from the rural township of Tell to the county's population center of Huntingdon where he purchased book from Swoope.

The tunes are numbered and captioned as follows, with incipits:
1. French tune (O franch thou art plesent Land)
2. London tune (When jacobs Days drew near an End)
3. York tune (O york thou art a plesent tune)
4. Dundee tune (My Dearest dear take me along)
6. Dublin tune (I Love the prity virtuous Maid)
7. Martyrs tune (This is the tune the Martyrs sung)
8. Aby tune (Aby thy walls are beate gold)
9. Newton tune (As I was going up newton street)
10. St. Davids tune (King David but a striplin was)
11. St. Mareys tune (An angel did apear and say)
12. Savoy tune (When this livery I put on)
13. The Isle of White tune (The Isle of white is my delight)
14. Brunswick tune (New Brunswick stands near rariton)
15. St Humphrey's tune (Thare is a fairmade in this place)
16. Litchfield or London old (Thare is a fairmade in this place)
17. Middlesex tune (The lisard lies upon the grass)
18. Lunenburgh tune (The Clark asends the seat)
19. London new tune (My love Come walk along with me)
20. Standish tune (Come let us all stand to the dish)
21. Calvory tune (This night is dark and something wet)
22. Canterbery tune (The maids will dress in ornament)
23. Westminster tune (My love and I sat up last night)
24. Windsor tune (My Dearest dear I love you well)
25. Gloucester tune (I think I Can with honer say)
26. St. James's tune (I wish my Love was a Red Rose)
27. The 90eth psalm (I wish my love was in this hous)
28. Bedford tune (The features of my true loves face)
29. South Wells tune (I'll Marvel the abaut)
30. Norwich tune (Its he that doth tobacco chew)
31. Old common tune (Our days begin with trouble heir)
32. Oxford tune (O Marvel not my Dearest dear)
33. Exeter tune (Come let us walk to yonder shade)
34. The New 100 psalm tune (Then wisdom learn from follay past)
35. St. Ann's tune (Wish I was thare that I know whare)
36. Ely's tune (Hast my beloved come away)
37. The judgment tune (When the fierce North wind)
38. The 98th psalm tune (The spacious firmement on high)
39. The Angel's song (Behold the blind Receive thare sight)
40. Converse tune (Mine Ears are rais'd when virgil sings)
41. Bangor tune (Whilst man is in his youthful days)
42. Wells tune (Life is the time to serve the Lord)
43. Virginia tune (Thye word the Ragin winds Contrauls)
44. Rochester tune (Joy to the world the Lord is Come)
47. Montgomery tune (Lord of the worlds above how plesent and how fair)
48. Jophronia tune (Grace is a sacred plant of heavenly berth)
49. Amanda tune (Death like an overflowing streame)
50. Sherburne tune (Song of Immortil praise be long to my almighty god) (18259)

Manuscript Music
Classical Music