Beyond Fingal's Cave: Ossian in the Musical Imagination [Paperback]

James Porter(Author)

ISBN: 9781648250347 | Published by: University of Rochester Press | Series: Eastman Studies in Music | Volume: 158 | Year of Publication: 2022 | 424p, H9 x W6, 139 line.
Status: Not Yet Published - Available for pre-order

Beyond Fingal's Cave


Beyond Fingal's Cave: Ossian in the Musical Imagination is the first study in English of musical compositions inspired by the poems published in the 1760s and attributed to a purported ancient Scottish bard named Ossian. From around 1780 onwards, the poems stimulated poets, artists, and composers in Europe as well as North America to break away from the formality of the Enlightenment. The admiration for Ossian's poems -shared by Napoleon, Goethe, and Thomas Jefferson - was an important stimulus in the development of Romanticism and the music that was a central part of it. More important still was the view of the German cultural philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, who saw past the controversy over the poems' authenticity to the traditional elements in these heroic poems and their mood of lament.

James Porter's long-awaited book traces the traditional sources used by James Macpherson for his epoch-making prose poems and examines crucial works by composers such as Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Massenet. Many other relatively unknown composers were also moved to write operas, cantatas, songs, and instrumental pieces, some of which have proven to be powerfully evocative and well worth performing and recording.

Table of Contents

Note to the Reader
Battling Critics, Engaging Composers: Ossian's Spell
On Macpherson's Native Heath: Primary Sources
A Culture without Writing, Settings without A Score, Haydn without Copyright, and Two Oscars on Stage
"A Musical Piece": Harriet Wainewright's Opera, Comàla (1792)
Between Gluck and Berlioz: Méhul's Uthal (1806)
Fingallo e Comala (1805) and Ardano e Dartula (1825): The Ossianic Operas of Stefano Pavesi
From Venice to Lisbon and St. Petersburg: Calto, Clato, Aganadeca, Gaulo ed Oitona and Two Fingals
Beethoven's Ossianic Manner, or, Where Scholars Fear to Tread
Excursus: Mendelssohn Waives the Rules: "Overture to the Isles of Fingal" and an "Unfinished" Coda
The Maiden Bereft: "Colma" from Rust (1780) to Schubert (1816)
Scènes lyriques sans frontières: Louis Théodore Gouvy's Le dernier Hymne d'Ossian (1858) and Lucien Hillemacher's Fingal (1880)
Ossian in Symbolic Conflict: Bernhard Hopffer's Darthula's Grabesgesang (1878), Jules Bordier's Un rêve d'Ossian (1885), and Paul Umlauft's Agandecca (1890)
The Musical Stages of "Darthula": From Thomas Linley Jr (ca.1775) to Arnold Schoenberg (1903) and Armin Knab (1906)
Cantatas as Drama: Joseph Jongen's Comala (1897), Jørgen Malling's Kyvala (1902) and Liza Lehmann's Leaves from Ossian (1909)
Symphonic Poem and Orchestral Fantasy: Alexandre Levy's Comala (1890), and Charles Villiers Stanford's Lament for the Son of Ossian (1903)
Neo-Romanticism in Britain and America: John Laurence Seymour's "Shilric's Song" (from Six Ossianic Odes), and Cedric Thorpe Davie's cantata, Dirge for Cuchullin (both 1936)
Modernity, Modernism and Ossian: Erik Chisholm's Night Song of the Bards (1944-51), James MacMillan's The Death of Oscar (2013), and Jean Guillou's Ballade Ossianique No. 2: Les Chants de Selma (1971, rev. 2005)
Afterword: The "Half-Viewless Harp" - Secondary Resonances of Ossian
Appendix 1:Title Page and Dedication of Harriet Wainewright's Comàla
Appendix 2: French and German Texts of Gouvy's Le dernier Hymne d'Ossian
Appendix 3: Texts for Erik Chisholm's Night Song of the Bards
Appendix 4: Provisional List of Musical Compositions Based on the Poems of Ossian
Selected Bibliography

Reviews & Quotes

"Illustrates, through the continuing popularity of Ossian throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the influence of folk legend on art-culture and popular culture."


"Beyond Fingal's Cave: Ossian in the Musical Imagination is destined to become the definitive scholarly handbook on the most influential cultural obsession of Europe and the United States around the turn of the nineteenth century. Sweeping in scope and inclusive of vernacular as well as concert repertoires, Porter's book situates the cult of Ossian in a 'landscape of feeling' that arose out of the Burkean dichotomy between the sublime and the beautiful, while also interrogating the themes of power and subjugation."
John Michael Cooper, author of Mendelssohn, Goethe, and the Walpurgis Night

"Porter discloses an intricate network of international lines of influence linking Scotland to the musical cultures of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and America. His study brings to light unsung composers, some of whom were women. Porter makes the most persuasive case for Beethoven himself. Most his excursus on Mendelssohn. Porter's intimate knowledge of the source material enables him to gauge the relative degree and success of each...blend of the old and the new."


"To say that the coverage and scope is impressive is almost an understatement. A thoroughly scholarly work, the monograph would find a welcome place in any university or conservatoire collection."
Karen E. McAulay

"In the musical arena, the [Ossian] poems inspired uncountable compositions in the most varied genres, from opera to piano cycle and from overture to symphony. Porter's descriptions are vivid and well written. His knowledge of the [scholarly] literature goes deep. Porter's study is exemplary in its depth and nuance."


"Authoritative and imaginative. Technical analysis is a huge strength throughout. Beyond Fingal's Cave shows exactly why the impact of Macpherson's Ossian transcends genre, period, nation, and performance styles. This book is a scholarly tour de force, erudite and analytically fearless. It is a splendid addition to the growing body of scholarship on Ossian."
Valentina Bold

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