BUNTING, Edward. A General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music of Ireland, Containing a variety of Admired Airs never before published, and also the Compositions of Conolan and Carolan (SIGNED BY EDWARD BUNTING)

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Collected from the Harpers in the different Provinces of Ireland and adapted for the Piano Forte. Volume I. With a Prefaratory Introduction by Edward Bunting. London: Printed & Sold by Preston & Son, at their Wholesale Warehouses 97 Strand, n.d. [1796]. Large quarto. pp. [ii], v, 32 [last 4 pages supplied from reprint]. Old paper wrappers. Some old damp staining. Signed by E. Bunting in ink on titlepage. Extremely rare signed copy.
COPAC locates the NLS copy only. ESTC T164581
Of the three collections which Bunting published throughout his life (the other two were in 1809 and 1840), the General Collection of Ancient Irish Music was to prove by far the most significant; it can fairly be described as the most seminal and influential publication in the history of Irish music. It inaugurated a long tradition of systematic music collection which has continued to flourish in Ireland. This collection includes 66 songs, without words; titles in Gaelic and English. The songs were collected at a meeting of itinerant Irish harpers in Belfast, 12 July 1792. Engraved throughout. There are selections of songs by Turlough Carolan, William and Thomas Connellan. The preface relates: “To rescue them from oblivion, and to open a new source of musical delight, the Public are now presented with the first volume of such a Collection”.

The Belfast Harp Festival, called by contemporary writers The Belfast Harpers Assembly, 11–14 July 1792, was a three-day musical and patriotic event organised in Belfast, by leading members of the local Society for Promoting Knowledge (the Linen Hall Library): Dr. James MacDonnell, Robert Bradshaw, Henry Joy, and Robert Simms. Edward Bunting, a young classically trained organist, was commissioned to notate the forty tunes performed by ten harpists attending. The venue of the contest was in The Assembly Room on Waring Street in Belfast which was opened as a market house in 1769. As at meeting of harpists at Granard, five years earlier, the express objective of the festival in Belfast was to assemble the remaining traditional harp players to compete for prizes, and preserve / notate the dying Irish harp tradition and its pieces. It was attended by ten Irish harpers and one Welsh harper, and many tunes were played. Among the harpists engaged were Arthur O’Neill and Charles Fanning. They were notated by Edward Bunting, and published under his name in this collection, titled A General Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland in 1796. Titlepage and music engraved; historical “Preface” (p. i-v) in letterpress.

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