Principles of Selection

To date King and Pierce have located more than 100 individual songs published with lyrics by Mrs. Opie between 1795 and 1853, with the majority appearing in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Queen’s Voice Professor Carol-Lynn Reifel reviewed more than fifty songs in the collection and selected fifteen on the basis of musical interest and suitability for performance; an additional seven songs were requested by the editors on the basis of contemporary popularity and their importance to the development of Opie’s career. The songs of greatest musical interest reflect the late eighteenth-century project of recovering and marketing British national folk songs and simultaneous experiments by British composers to introduce foreign musical traditions: in the first category fall Opie’s collaborative work with E.S.Biggs on his first and second sets of Welch Airs, with English words written to them by Mrs. Opie (1801, 1804), and with George Thomson on his Select Collection of Original Welsh Airs (1817); into the second fall her work with Biggs on two sets of Hindoo Airs(1800). Opie’s songs might also be arranged, however, in terms of their lyrical interest; all her works reflect the importance of what Barker-Benfield has called the “culture of Sensibility” in eighteenth-century Britain. Here we have constructed three subcategories bringing together important thematic concerns: songs featuring the solo voice of an abjected speaker and emphasizing the performance of affect; songs offering political commentary and representing the emotional devastation of war; and songs reflecting the importance of the affective bonds of love and friendship. These groupings offer a broad sampling of Opie’s lyrical production and should be of interest to both literary scholars investigating the origins of her poetry and musicologists investigating the history of songs for the drawing room.