One of the many works by forgotten composers and lyricists that lie in the sheet music collection at Rouse Hill Estate is ‘The Ballad Singer’, by George Linley (1798–1865). What can only be described as a charming little ditty with a pretty coloured cover, published in 1854, is one of many songs by Linley to have survived in Australian collections. Born in Leeds, England, Linley was an insatiable wordsmith who composed song lyrics, hymns, ballads, musical arrangements of nursery rhymes, folksongs, and operatic works. Believed to have had no musical training, the often-sentimental lyrics of his several hundred songs contrast notably with his strongly worded attacks on the music critics of the day.
Ballad singers used to travel the towns and cities in Britain in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries singing and selling cheap printed song lyrics to the townsfolk. The theme of ‘The Ballad Singer’ would have been familiar to the Rouse family but probably only as a romanticised literary device and as depicted in delicate porcelain figurines rather than any real memory of English street hawkers. By the 1850s, when the Rouses purchased this song, they were shoppers at Sydney’s music shops and had developed consumer habits that would be familiar to us today.
Linley did not visit Australia, but his lyrics were used by opera composer William Vincent Wallace who had worked in Australia in the 1830s and was immensely popular here. George Linley’s son, also George, was a poet and toured Australia around the time of the release of ‘The Ballad Singer’. The local press reported on George’s visit, making reference to his more famous father, and he is best remembered for his publication ‘The Goldseeker and other Poems’, which was based on his experiences here.
Watch the performance
Listen to Amy Moore share her performance of ‘The Ballad Singer’. This is the only know recording of this song, so we have shared a performance of another of Linley’s songs as well videos about a recent fantasy video game using the same title as our featured song.
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Lyric soprano Amy Moore moved to Australia from the UK in 2015. An accomplished soloist and ensemble singer, Amy enjoys a broad repertoire, with a particular focus on Baroque and contemporary music.
‘The Ballad Singer’
Waking at early day,
Early I take my way,
Trilling some ancient lay
As I stroll along.
Youthful hearts I cheer,
Age delights to hear,
Gay and grave draw near,
While I sing my song.
Humble though be my fare,
Health is a boon I share,
Little I dream of care,
As thro' life I go.
All some kindness show to me
Where'er I chance to roam;
Tho' a wandering life I lead,
I always find a home.