Sara Martin is a Music Volunteer at the Russell-Cotes. You may have heard her play the piano as you have explored the historic house. Here she describes a selection of tunes that Annie Russell-Cotes collected into a songbook, recently acquired by the museum.
I felt very honoured to see Annie’s songbook in recent times and it gave me a little more insight into her musicianship and her character too.
As I have spent a great many years studying and singing/playing a wide range of music I was truly intrigued to discover that Annie Russell Cotes was someone who appeared to enjoy singing and playing music, ranging from opera and oratorio to the Scottish ballads such as ‘My ain dear Nell’ ‘ ‘My heart is sair’, ‘Speed Bonny Boat’, ‘Old Robin Grey’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
We know that she was a mezzo soprano. It is clear that she must have enjoyed a high degree of musicianship as well to have been capable of singing composers such as Handel, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Verdi. She seems to have been very fond of Handel as there are solos from ‘Messiah’, ‘Xerxes’ and ‘Rinaldo’. They are indeed beautiful and profound compositions which can prompt a real depth of feeling within the musician performing them, as well as the audience.
These choices also for me reflect her sensibilities and depth as a person not only as a musician; to be capable of singing oratorio and opera well demands real heartfelt feeling and love for the music as well as considerable technique which in reality takes years to master well. So this alone tells me something about Annie as a person. She had the necessary patience and love to study music to a high level.
Her collection shows that she was also in touch with the popular music of the day and these Scottish ballads would have been a part of her roots and upbringing. They would also have brought people together for sing alongs which would have raised spirits and brought joy, cheer, unity and comfort. She has many Scottish ballads within her collection and the whole design of the villa as we all know lends itself very much to musical performance and, just as there is today, there was a piano in the hall, so we can imagine soirées and Annie’s music being very much a part of their life there.
The songbook is not currently on display, but live background music is performed regularly in the historic house, to enhance the atmosphere. You can find details of our monthly Art for the Ear live music Tuesday sessions by checking the What’s On section.