Early evidence for the music in Allan Ramsay’s The Gentle Shepherd and its performance history

Research output: Contributions to conferencesPaper



Allan Ramsay’s ‘Scots pastoral comedy’ The Gentle Shepherd of 1725 was relatively successful, but it was not until the work was transformed into its 22-song ballad opera form a few years later that it become a work of national and international reach. It has a rich performing history that spans two centuries, and it was given throughout Scotland, England, North America and even Australia by professional and amateur companies. However, Ramsay never published the text and music notation for the songs together in one volume: the clearest and most comprehensible musical sources for these date from the second half of the 18th century, and they record a performing tradition already decades old. The contemporary sources, including those known to Ramsay and authorised by him, are incomplete, occasionally confusing or confused, and often represent musical traditions which are only tangentially related to what we know of ballad opera practice.

A study of the musical sources in print and manuscript from Ramsay’s lifetime clarifies some issues and complicates others, and also reveals the lineage of some later sources. While this sheds light on what Ramsay’s original musical intentions may have been, it also illustrates how musical material can be transformed by the process of transmission, in a variety of social and performative contexts. With musical illustration, we will demonstrate the multifaceted performance possibilities for The Gentle Shepherd, and the complex issues around style and technique that can only be understood and interrogated through performance.


Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished or Performed - 3 May 2019
EventMusica Scotica Conference 2019: Musica Scotica 2019: 800 years of Scottish Music - The Tolbooth, Stirling, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 May 20195 May 2019


ConferenceMusica Scotica Conference 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address