‘Robin Red-Breast’

House Music at Your House

For many emigrants coming to New South Wales in the mid-19th century the notion of ‘home’ belonged to places far over the seas in the northern hemisphere.

It would be some time before the idea of Australia as ‘home’ took hold – with greater calls for political independence and a sense of national identity building towards Federation in 1901. In the 1850s, however, many in Sydney still looked back sentimentally towards the bird life, flowers, landscapes and seasons in Great Britain and Europe to express emotion through their music, art and stories. ‘Robin Red-Breast’ tells us the seasonal story of the British native songbird, which seems quite a contrast to Rouse Hill Estate’s soundscape of Blue Mountains bell birds, magpies, currawongs and kookaburras.

This song's composer, Anne Wilhelmina Pelzer (1833-1897), was born into a family of musicians in London and was a successful composer, pianist, concertina player and teacher there. Her sister, Catherina Pelzer (1821-1895), was a celebrated guitar virtuosa and her instruction manual for amateurs, ‘Learning the Guitar Simplified’, was reprinted twelve times in the 19th century alone! The ‘Pelzer daughters’ had successful careers as professional musicians and this was considered somewhat unusual for ‘ladies’ of their class. Anne subsequently withdrew from her performing career following her marriage to Dr Julius Althaus in 1859, but she continued to be celebrated for her musicality in social circles.


Watch the performance

Listen to Anna Fraser and Luke Byrne perform ‘Robin Red-Breast’ and then have a go yourself! This is the only known recording of this song so you can help us share more versions with the world.

You can meet the musicians, find links to the music and lyrics below, and perform and share your own version.


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Meet the performers

Anna Fraser

Anna has gained a reputation as a versatile soprano specialising predominantly in the interpretation of early and contemporary repertoire. 

Learn more about Anna.

Luke Byrne

Luke is a Sydney-based composer, musical director and pianist. Recent commissions include Capricorn and Desert Sea for Sydney Philharmonia, Storm Bird, Buruwan Elegy and Birinyi for Gondwana Indigenous Children's Choir with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Where Sails Once Flew for Adelaide Chamber Singers. Luke arranged the national anthems for the 2015 Netball World Cup and in 2012 was composer-in-residence for Sydney Children's Choir.

Learn more about Luke.

Lyrics

‘Robin Red-Breast’

Goodbye, goodbye to Summer!

For Summer's nearly done;

The garden smiling faintly,

Cool breezes in the sun;

Our Thrushes now are silent,

Our Swallows flown away-

But Robin's here, in coat of brown,

With ruddy breast-knot gay.

Robin, Robin Redbreast,

O Robin dear!

Robing singing sweetly

In the falling of the year.

 

Bright yellow, red, and orange,

The leaves come down in hosts;

The trees are Indian Princes,

But soon they'll turn to Ghosts;

The leathery pears and apples

Hang russet on the bough,

It's Autumn, Autumn, Autumn late,

"Twill soon be winter now.

Robin, Robin Redbreast,

O Robin dear!

And what will this poor Robin do?

For pinching days are near.

 

The fireside for the Cricket,

The wheatsack for the Mouse,

When trembling night-winds whistle

And moan all round the house;

The frosty ways like iron,

The branches plumed with snow-

Alas! in Winter, dead, and dark,

Where can poor Robin go?

Robin, Robin Redbreast,

O Robin dear!

And a crumb of bread for Robin,

His little heart to cheer.


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