Isabella Scott Gibson

Composer, Harpist and Singer

Image from Pixabay

  • BORN 1786, Edinburgh, Scotland
  • DIED 28th November 1838
  • WORKED Edinburgh, Scotland
  • HONOURS None as far as we know – but she was described as famous


Isabella ran a boarding school for young ladies in Edinburgh, so it’s likely she taught astronomy, botany, chemistry and maths


Title:  Row Gondolier – A Barcarolle
Words by: the composer (as far as we know)
Written in: c. 1800
For: voice and piano or harp
Performed by: Frances M Lynch
World Premiere:  August 5th, 2017, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, part of “Scottish Superwomen of Science”

This is a very traditional, if early example, of an operatic aria for the concert platform or salon. It has long piano introductions and an outro which provided a great setting to tell the story of WW2 hero Victoria Drummond in full melodramatic style!

This video was made at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017 and takes up Victoria’s story just as she arrives on holiday in Vienna on the day the Nazi’s invaded……..

Title:  Curious Herbs (With Mary’s love without her fear)
Additional Music by: FRANCES M LYNCH
Words by: Elizabeth Blackwell
Written in: c. 1800 (and 2017)
For: female speaker and SATB vocal ensemble
Performed by: Frances M Lynch and Francis St. John
World Premiere:  August 5th, 2017, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, part of “Scottish Superwomen of Science”

Elizabeth Blackwell’s extraordinary work “A Curious Herbal” lists 500 medicinal herbs and gives instructions on their uses. We chant the herb names and sing some of the more outlandish instructions which betray the music of a beautiful 4 part hymn, set by Gibson –  With Mary’s love without her fear. Her score indicates that the tune is in Common Metre and credits it as “Howe Street”.


Title: Dark Lochnagar
Words by: George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron) 1807
Written in: C. 1822
For: solo voice (original included arrangements for orchestra, piano or harp)
Performed by: Frances M Lynch

The song talks of a longing for Scotland which Somerville may have felt while she lived in London, particularly during her first Marriage, and possibly her final years in Italy. The composer is said to be a distant relative of Sir Walter Scotts (whom Somerville knew), and of course Lord Byron who wrote the lyrics was father to her mathematics pupil, Ada Lovelace! Both women lived in Edinburgh at the same time, and given Somerville’s fame it seems likely the composer would have known and admired her.


Her father, William Scott, was a teacher so she may have been home educated

Samuel Dukinfield Swarbreck (attr) – View of Edinburgh 1827



She ran a boarding school for young ladies in Edinburgh where she taught music.


Isabella was among the first to produce substantial Scottish repertoire for the concert harp.


In addition she wrote a great many songs for harp or piano, and arranged traditional tunes. She also wrote a good many hymns or sacred songs


She had many of her most popular songs published in the Scottish Minstrel series ( 6 volumes from 1821 – 24)


Isabella is related to Sir Walter Scott the famous Scottish novelist

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), 1822 by Raeburn, Sir Henry (1756-1823)


She must have been an inspiring teacher, given her many compositions, and that the composer Robert A. Smith consulted her about his own composition.

The title page of “Row Gondolier” which we adapted to tell the story of Victoria Drummond