Roslyn Potter

John Forbes’s Songs and Fancies: The Musical and Printing Legacy of Seventeenth-century Aberdeen

Songs and Fancies (also sometimes referred to as Forbes’s Cantus) was first printed in 1662 and is the earliest collection of secular songs printed in Scotland. It represents an example of early printed notation, particularly valuable because nine of the 62 songs are unique to this publication and their melodies may have otherwise been lost to history. Despite this, the text has not truly permeated Scottish cultural consciousness and its very existence poses questions into the nature of its contents and their suitability for publication in a century remembered primarily for its religious instability. My paper will question why Songs and Fancies been so frequently dismissed by historical as well as modern editors and scholars. Its relative invisibility supports the need for revaluating its position as a contemporary and transnational seventeenth-century publication. The aim of this paper is to clarify some of the mirkier elements that surround the text, and to track its impact on the eighteenth century which is generally regarded as the ‘zenith’ of song collecting and publication in Scotland. My study, therefore, is primarily an historiographical assessment of Songs and Fancies, combining Scottish book history, historical musicology and literary studies more broadly.

Roslyn Potter, University of Glasgow