Home Arts & Culture British professor revives 18th century Indian music

British professor revives 18th century Indian music

Horniman Museum London

Horniman Museum London
Horniman Museum London

Working with Indian musicians, a British professor has revived, recorded and reinterpreted 18th century compositions, originally performed at nautch or dance parties at mansions of wealthy English merchants and in courts of Indian nawabs.

The early musical encounters between the Indian subcontinent and the West are now available in the form of a CD titled “The Oriental Miscellany”.

“I wanted the new recording to reach back to the roots of this kind of music and reflect how it would have sounded when first performed centuries ago. I collaborated with musicians from India to explore how the songs would originally have been arranged and then worked from this to develop a new interpretation,” said Jane Chapman, professor at University of Southampton.

Chapman’s album was recorded in the Music Gallery of the Horniman Museum in London, on a double manual harpsichord built by Jacob Kirckman in 1772, an example of the kind of instrument that British travellers often imported for use in India.

“The British became very interested in capturing what they had heard at colourful social gatherings, recreating performances in India, and transporting it back home to their Georgian drawing rooms.

“This led to some of the songs being notated and arranged for instruments they were familiar with, such as the harpsichord,” Chapman said.

The project began while Chapman was an artist in residence at King’s College London’s Foyle Special Collections Library, working in collaboration with Katherine Butler Schofield at King’s music department and with the college’s India Institute.

She studied “The Oriental Miscellany: Airs of Hindoostan”, the first publication of Indian music written in staff notation for Western instruments, along with a collection of 77 songs compiled by 18th century harpsichordist Sophia Plowden.

“The Oriental Miscellany: Airs of Hindoostan” is a book of musical scores, published by conductor and concert promoter William Hamilton Bird in Calcutta in 1789.

It is regarded by musicologists as an important historical source of Indian music.

Some of the compositions it contains, along with Plowden’s collection, originate from the traditional folk songs of camel drivers.

Chapman recorded and released her CD, drawing from her extensive research. The CD is being released by Signum Classics.