A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Moore, Thomas

MOORE, Thomas. There have been many biographies of this 'poet of all circles'; but it is as a composer and singer, and thus as 'the idol of his own,' that our pages must exhibit him. Moore, who was born of Catholic parents, in Dublin, May 28, 1779, seems to have been from early youth susceptible of musical impressions, and has recorded his childish delight at being permitted to astonish the company at the house of a certain Miss Dodd, by grinding out music from a little barrel-organ, whilst concealed under a table. We next find him brought forward as a show-reciter of his own rhymes at the school of Samuel Whyte of Dublin, who also educated Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The Dublin University in 1793 having opened its portals to the once proscribed Catholics, Moore entered as a student in 1795: being on a visit to the family of a fellow-student, he tells us of his pleasure at hearing Haydn's Sonata:—

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 4/4 \key d \major \relative d''' { \grace cis8 d[ d, d d] e[\trill d] e[\trill d] } }

and a lesson of Nicolai's performed on the harpsichord by the sisters of his friend. Among his musical acquaintances were one Wesley Doyle, a musician's son, who published some songs at Chappell's in 1822, and Joe, the brother of Michael Kelly, the author of the 'Reminiscences.' Moore sang effectively upon these occasions some of the songs of Dibdin, then immensely popular. He now received lessons from Warren, subsesequently organist of the Dublin cathedrals, and a pupil of Dr. Philip Cogan, a noted extemporiser upon Irish melodies: but neither Doyle nor Warren's example or precept produced any effect until the future bard began to feel personal interest in music. Subsequently he says, 'Billy Warren soon became an inmate of the family: I never received from him any regular lessons; yet by standing often to listen while he was instructing my sister, and endeavouring constantly to pick out tunes, or make them when I was alone, I became a pianoforte player (at least sufficiently so to accompany my own singing) before almost any one was aware of it.' He produced a sort of masque at this time, and sang in it an adaptation of Haydn's 'Spirit-song,' to some lines of his own. On occasion of some mock coronation held at the rocky islet of Dalkey, near Dublin, Moore met Incledon, who was then and there knighted as Sir Charles Melody, the poet contributing an ode for the sportive occasion. It was the metrical translation or paraphrase of Anacreon, subsequently dedicated to the Prince Regent, that first brought Moore into public notice; about this time he alludes to the 'bursting out of his latent talent for music': further quickened by the publication of Bunting's first collection of Irish melodies in the year 1796. From this collection Moore (greatly to Bunting's chagrin) selected eleven of the sixteen airs in the first number of his Irish melodies; Bunting averred that not only was this done without acknowledgement, but that Moore and his coadjutor Stevenson had mutilated the airs. That Bunting's censures were not without foundation will appear from Carolan's air 'Planxty Kelly,' one strain of which—

{ \time 6/8 \key d \major \relative b' { b4 cis8 d4 b8 | a4 g8 fis4 e8 | d4 d8 d4 e8 | fis4 g8 a4 fis8 | b4 b8 b4 a8 | b4 cis8 d4 \bar "||" } }

was altered by Moore to the following:—

{ \time 6/8 \key d \major \relative b' { b4 cis8 d4 b8 | a4 g8 fis4 e8 | d4 d'8 d e cis | d2. \bar "||" } }

Even this ending (on a minim) is incorrect, the portion of the original air here used being

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 6/8 \key d \major \relative d' { d4 d'8 d e cis | d4.-^ d4 r8 \bar "||" } }

In 'Go where glory waits thee,' the ending as given by Moore destroys what in the article Irish Music we have called the narrative form; it should end as follows:—

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/4 \key f \major \relative f' { f4 g8 a16 bes a8 g | f f f2 \bar "||" } }

The air was however altered thus to suit Moore's lines:—

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/4 \key f \major \relative f' { \autoBeamOff f4 g8 a16[ bes] a8 g | f2. \bar "||" }
\addlyrics { O still re -- mem -- ber me. } }

The song 'Rich and rare' ends thus in the original:—

{ \time 3/4 \key d \major \relative a' { a4 g fis | e d e | d2 d4 | d2. \bar "||" } }

The version of Moore is perhaps an improvement, but it is an alteration:—

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/4 \key d \major \relative a' { a4 g fis | fis e a | d,2 d4 | d2. \bar "||" } }

Moore took to himself whatever blame these changes involved, and even defended the often rambling and inappropriate preludes of Stevenson, which he fancifully compared to the elaborate initial letters of mediaeval MSS. Moore wrote 125 of these beautiful and now famous poems. His singing of them to his own accompaniment has been frequently described as indeed deficient in physical power, but incomparable as musical recitation: not unfrequently were the hearers moved to tears, which the bard himself could with difficulty restrain; indeed it is on record that one of his lady listeners was known to faint away with emotion. Mr. N. P. Willis says, 'I have no time to describe his (Moore's) singing; its effect is only equalled by his own words. I for one could have taken him to my heart with delight!' Leigh Hunt describes him as playing with great taste on the piano, and compares his voice as he sang, to a flute softened down to mere breathing. Jeffrey, Sydney Smith, and Christopher North are equally eloquent; nay, even the utterly unmusical Sir W. Scott calls him the 'prettiest warbler he had ever known'; while Byron, almost equally deficient in musical appreciation, was moved to tears by his singing. Moore felt what he expressed, for as an illustration of the saying, 'Si vis me flere, dolendum est primum ipsi tibi,' it is recorded that on attempting 'There's a song of the olden time,' a favourite ditty of his father, for the first time after the old man's death, he broke down, and had to quit the room, sobbing convulsively.

Although as an educated musician Moore had no repute, yet, like Goldsmith, he now and then undertook to discuss such topics as harmony and counterpoint, of which he knew little or nothing. Thus we find him gravely defending consecutive fifths, and asking naïvely whether there might not be some pedantry in adhering to the rule which forbids them? That he was largely gifted with the power of creating melody, is apparent from his airs to various lines of his own; amongst them 'Love thee, dearest,' 'When midst the gay,' 'One dear smile'; and 'The Canadian boatsong,' long deemed a native air, but latterly claimed by Moore. Many of his little concerted pieces attained great popularity. The terzetto 'O, lady fair' was at one time sung everywhere; a little three-part glee, 'The Watchman'—describing two lovers, unwilling to part, yet constantly interrupted by the warning voice of the passing guardian of the night calling out the hours as they flew too quickly—was almost equally popular. Among his poems may be briefly cited 'Anacreon'; the matchless 'Irish Melodies,' and their sequel the 'National Airs'; 'Lalla Rookh' (including four poems) and numerous songs and ballads. With his satirical and political writings we do not concern ourselves. Probably no poet or man of letters has ever attained such popularity, or such loving celebrity amongst his very rivals. Some of his works have been translated into the French, Russian, Polish, and other languages of Europe, and his oriental verse has been rendered into Persian, and absolutely sung in the streets of Ispahan. It will be sufficient for our purpose to allude to the one misfortune of his public life, which arose from the defalcation of his deputy in a small official post at Bermuda, given him in 1804 through the influence of Earl Moira. The claims which thus arose he however honourably discharged by his literary labours. The evening of Moore's life was saddened by the successive deaths of his children. His wife,[1] an admirable woman, was his mainstay under these trials; and in 1835 the government of the day, through Lord John Russell, almost forced upon him a pension of £300 per annum. He died, enfeebled, but in the possession of his faculties, Feb. 25, 1852, at Sloperton Cottage, near Devizes.

[ R. P. S. ]

  1. Miss Bessie Dykes, a young and beautiful Irish actress, whom he married in 1811.