Item of the Month: Peace to the Souls of the Heroes

glee singers

Glee Singers c.1818 © The Trustees of the British Museum

This month the Jerwood library will be hosting its first ever project under the CoLab banner. The Jerwood Library Catch and Glee Club will be a collaborative partnership between the library, vocal professor Peter Knapp, and a small group of student singers. Using material from the library’s extensive catch and glee collection we will bring to life the convivial atmosphere of part-singing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Do join us if you can for the performance in the library at 5pm on Friday 19 February.

To whet your appetite, this month’s item of the month showcases John Wall Callcott’s glee Peace to the Souls of the Heroes. This was based on the popular text Fingal written by James MacPherson in 1762 but purporting to be a translation from the work of an ancient Gaelic poet named Ossian. This, along with MacPherson’s other Ossianic writings, played an important role in the Celtic revival and in the development of Romanticism.

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Peace to the Souls of the Heroes / John Wall Callcott (1766-1821)

Callcott himself is a less well-known figure these days. Born in 1766, he was a largely self-taught musician who nevertheless became a popular glee composer. In fact, he came to dominate the Catch Club’s annual prize competitions, until they abolished them in 1793. He was also active in the formation of the Glee Club in 1787. Aside from his glee writing, Callcott was an organist, music theorist, and, like other Enlightenment gentlemen, a dictionary compiler. He had a large family and his reputation was secured by his son-in-law William Horsley (also a celebrated glee composer), who published Callcott’s works in a three-volume set prefaced by a glowing memoir.

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