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George Thomson (1757-1851) - Song Collector

He was born in Limekilns, Fife, Scotland, and became Chief Clerk to the Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Art and Manufacture in Scotland, which had been established after the Act Of Union to promote Scottish trade. He played in the orchestra at the St Cecilia Concerts in Edinburgh, at which he admired the Italianate interpretations of Scottish songs performed by singers such as Tenducci and Urbani. In 1792 he began work on collecting Scottish songs and contracted the help of Robert Burns, who contributed 25 songs to the first volume of A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs (1793). For his work, which lasted until his death, Robert Burns received little payment and Thomson made significant alterations to the words and tunes of many songs, as well as to their settings, most significantly to the song known as Scots Wha Hae. After Burns's death Thomson attempted to conceal his editorial alterations by obliterating much of their correspondence. To the six volumes of (he Select Collection (1793-1841) Burns contributed 114 songs. Thomson enlisted several leading European composers, including Haydn, Beethoven,
Weber and Hummel, to write settings for the songs but the series was not a success. In 1839 Thomson retired from public life and spent some time in London before he died on 18 February 1851 in Leith.

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