Jazz ensemble Solo
Jazz ensemble + ...
For beginners

William Hamilton Bird

All Compositions

Compositions for: Jazz ensemble

William Hamilton Bird was an Irish musician who was active in India during Company rule. He was a pioneer in transcribing Indian music into western notation.
Little is known of Bird´s early life. He appears to have come from Dublin, and by his own account he travelled to India in about 1770, remaining there until the 1790s. In 1789 he published in Calcutta (Kolkata) the work for which he is remembered, The Oriental Miscellany; being a collection of the most favourite airs of Hindoostan, compiled and adapted for the Harpsichord. There are about 30 pieces plus a flute sonata. The book was republished in Edinburgh (c. 1805 after Bird's death) with a slightly different selection of pieces.
Bird's transcriptions can be seen in the broad context of European interest in "national" music, evidenced by publications of Irish and Scottish folk-song arrangements, such as "25 Scottish Songs" (Beethoven). They can also be seen in the context of a mingling of cultures in late 18th century India, as described, for example by the historian William Dalrymple. The first edition of Bird's work was dedicated to Warren Hastings, the de facto Governor-General of India from 1773 to 1785. Hastings was interested in Indian music and Indian culture generally, he had promoted the first translation into English of the Bhagavad Gita. Other members of the British community who were interested in Indian music included:
Bird appears to have collected his material from live performances of genres such as tappa (a mainly vocal tradition). Sometimes he indicates the singer associated with the piece and he appears to have had other, uncredited, collaborators such as Sophia Plowden.
The music came from an oral tradition, and we are not in a position to compare the transcriptions directly with the original versions. However, there is little doubt that in various ways, Bird's transcriptions are not faithful to the original versions:
The British label Signum Classics released a recording of the "Oriental Miscellany" in 2015 featuring the harpsichordist Jane Chapman. It received international attention. Jane Chapman had studied the music in a project supported by the Leverhulme Trust. She played a 1722 Jacob Kirckman instrument in the Horniman Museum, London. For the recording it was tuned in Vallotti temperament, an alternative to equal temperament (the norm in Western music). The tuning gives the player more scope for an approximation of the modes (ragas) of Indian music.
Bird's work is also in the repertoire of other harpsichordists, for example Mahan Esfahani.