“‘Music which reaches the heart ‘:
Recovering the Songs of Amelia Opie”
Co-investigators: Gordon E. Smith, School of Music, Queen’s University
Shelley King, Department of English, Queen’s University
“Recovering the Songs of Amelia Opie” was an interdisciplinary project supported by the Queen’s University Fund for the Support of Artistic Production; its primary aim was the production of recordings of Romantic Era songs featuring lyrics by Amelia Alderson Opie (1769-1853), and music by a variety of composers: Edward Smith Biggs, Wesley Doyle; Thomas Wright, Mrs. Bianchi Lacy, Mrs. Robert Arkwright, and Mrs. Alsop. Of the 10 songs, only one–“The Poor Hindoo”–had previously been recorded, so we hope this work will form an important resource for both literary scholars interested in Amelia Opie as a woman writer and important voice in popular British literature of the period, and musicologists studying popular music for domestic performance in the Romantic era.
The impetus for this project arose from work on an edition of the collected poems of Amelia Alderson Opie for Oxford University Press. The editorial process of attempting to recover Opie’s poetic corpus revealed that many of her early verses were initially published as song lyrics, and, indeed, that many works have never been subsequently reprinted either as poems without the accompanying music or as songs. Given the interdisciplinary origins of her art, and believing that it is important to recover these works as songs as well as poems, the editors sought the assistance of Gordon E. Smith, a colleague in the school of music, to help secure the performance and recording of a series of representative songs. This project also reflects an important new direction for scholarship in British Romanticism: the reintegration of poetry and music through interdisciplinary collaboration. In 2004, Fred Burwick and Paul Douglass published their edition of Byron’s Hebrew Melodies, accompanied by the release of a recording restoring the poems to their original musical settings. The project of restoring the musical context of Byron’s poetry offers a new perspective on a canonical poet: however, our restoration expands our understanding of the contemporary fame and popularity of woman writer whose early reputation rested on songs, and who was herself known as a musical performer. While we can recover neither Opie’s voice nor her performance techniques, we can make more widely available her lyrics and the music to which they were set, reaffirming the importance of the sister arts in her career.