After the East India Company attained a firm foothold in Calcutta in 1757, an influx of English middle-class civil and military personnel brought Western classical music to the subcontinent.
A taste for arrangements of Indian melodies arose among these expatriates, prompting such publications as William Hamilton Bird’s The Oriental Miscellany: Being a collection of the most favourite airs of Hindoostan, compiled and adapted for the harpsichord (Calcutta: Cooper, 1789).
In his introduction Bird complained that the songs’ brevity and “their want of variety” obliged him to compose variations for each one, and that their rhythms cost him “great pains to bring them into any form as to time.”
Above, Johan Zoffany’s Colonel Blair with his family and an Indian ayah (Calcutta, 1786), showing a square piano or clavichord. Below, Daniel Laumans performs a “Hindustan air” arranged by Sophia Plowden around the same time.
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