History of The Last Rose of Summer

The Last Rose of Summer was written by Thomas Moore to the tune of ‘The Groves of Blarney.’

‘The Groves of Blarney’ may be a variation of an older air called ‘The Young Man’s Dream,’ which Moore had adapted to the words ‘As a beam on the face of the waters may glow.’

Blarney, near Cork, became popular in 1788 or 1789 and it was then that the words of ‘The Groves of Blarney’ were written by R. A. Millikin, an attorney of Cork. The tune may be older.

Below is an image of ‘The Groves of Blarney’ sheet music and ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ sheet music.

The lyrics for ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ are:

‘Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flow’r of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes
Or give sigh for sigh.

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Beethoven set ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ to music in E flat and with the words ‘Sad and luckless was the season.’

Mendelssohn wrote a fantasia on the air, published as op. 15, considerable altering the notation.

Flotow made it the leading motif in the latter part of ‘Martha.’

Berlioz’s enthusiasm for the tune equaled his contempt for the opera. ‘The delicious Irish air was so simply and poetically sung by Patti, that its fragrance alone was sufficient to disinfect the rest of the work.’

Moore’s song was first published, with the music, in the fifth number of his Iriah Melodies December 1813.

Whatever alterations Moore or Stevenson made in the air (apart from their artistic merits or demerits), it is probable that these little florid touches had much influence on the extended popularity of the melody.

It must also be remembered that the poet was wedding a pathetic song to what was then always associated with a humorous lyric, and it is likely that he thought some changes were necessary.

Crofton Croker, in Songs of Ireland, 1839, gives the date of Millikin’s ‘Groves of Blarney’ as about 1798 or 1799, and tells us that it’s origin was to ridicule a laudatory set of doggerel verses praising the beauties of Castle Hyde.

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It was to the air of ‘Castle Hyde’ that the song ‘The Groves of Blarney’ was sung.

The ballad of ‘Castle Hyde’ does not appear to have been reprinted in any collection, but copies are found on broadsides issued by the ballad printers of the Catnach period.

A traditional version of the air, set to a poem by Lord Byron, ‘The kiss, dear maid,’ was harmonized by Beethoven.

The copy above of ‘The Groves of Blarney’ is from Holden’s Collection of Old Established Irish Slow Airs, Book i. circa 1806, where the melody apparently first appears in print.

At the end of the tune is a beautiful ‘Ullogaun,’ or lament as a burden.

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