One of the most popular of all Victorian ballads, this has words by Graham Clifton Bingham, whose ‘Love, could I only tell thee?’ is included in Thomas Allen’s first Hyperion volume of ballads. The son of a Bristol bookseller, Bingham wrote stories, children’s books and some 1,650 song lyrics. He claimed to have written the lyric of ‘Love’s Old Sweet Song’ at four in the morning, after which various composers vied to set it. The successful candidate was James Lynam Molloy, who graduated from the Catholic University in Dublin, studied also in London, Paris and Bonn, and was called to the English bar. A noted raconteur, he found congenial occupation in rowing and singing, as well as song composition. Published in 1884, the ballad was first sung by Antoinette Sterling, who did exceptionally well from the royalty she received for introducing it. When Arthur Sullivan was accused of using the song’s first two bars for ‘When a merry maiden marries’ in The Gondoliers
, he denied it with the classic reply, “We had only eight notes between us”.
from notes by Andrew Lamb © 2003