Engraving of The Beggar's Opera

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Postcard of Engraving of The Beggar's Opera.
© National Museums Scotland

Engraving of The Beggar's Opera

Performance of the Beggar's Opera in London in 1728. Engraving showing variety of instruments used for the orchestration of the music for this popular pastoral drama by John Gay. There is a satirical element in this representation. The demands of orchestral performance such as this probably led to the development by turners and musical instrument makers of bagpipes designed for the purpose and specifically of the Pastoral and Union bagpipes.

The Pastoral Bagpipe was developed in the early 18th century for chamber music and light opera. Such instruments were used for example in the popular and fashionable pastoral dramas with music such as the 'Gentle Shepherd' (1725) by the writer and poet Allan Ramsay (1688-1758) and in John Gay's 'Beggars' Opera' (1728). The early instruments, created by musical instrument makers in London and Edinburgh, had only two drones, bass and tenor, and the chanter. The chanter, made in sections like a flute, had a long narrow conical bore with the extension, described as the 'foot joint', allowing the instrument to be overblown into a second octave. A 'tutor' and book of music, 'The Compleat Tutor for the Pastoral or New Bagpipe', was produced in London for the Pastoral Pipe by John Geoghegan in about 1746 (ref. NMS H.1947.129).

The Union Bagpipe was developed for chamber music and light opera performance in the early 18th century. It is a form of bellows-blown chamber bagpipe which survives today in the versatile Irish Uilleann pipe. In the early form, it was a popular and fashionable musical instrument but now it is not generally seen beyond museum collections. It had a wider melodic range than the standard bagpipe and this was achieved in the early stages by overblowing and later by adding keys to the chanter. 'Regulators', which were stopped pipes with keys and mounted with the drones, were added to the instrument in the second half of the 18th century and were used to provide chord accompaniment to the chanter. The Union Bagpipe was used for orchestral performance in the ballad opera tradition of the 18th century and later for operatic arrangements of the Ossian Cycle.

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Online ID: 000-000-579-622-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0869: The Bagpipe Collection
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  Bagpipe Archive 4.8
Date: 1728 (date of event)
Who: John Gay (writer of drama)
Where: England, London (depicted)
Description: Engraving of The Beggar's Opera.
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