Nearly everyone has heard the beautiful Irish song The Last Rose of Summer. It has been used in several films and has been recorded by Clannad, Celtic Woman, and countless other artists. However, the origins of this song are rarely discussed.
The Last Rose of Summer began as a poem by an Irishman named Thomas Moore (1779-1852). Moore wrote the poem in 1805 and, two years later, it was set to music by composer Sir John Andrew Stevenson (1761-1833). Unfortunately, Moore and Stevenson’s contributions to art have been forgotten and The Last Rose of Summer is often billed as an “Old Irish Air”.
Sometimes, the song is wrongly credited to a German composer named Friedrich von Flotow. Von Flotow was a man who made virtually no impact on the world of music. At this point, the only thing he is remembered for is an opera titled Martha.
Martha is about an aristocrat named Lady Harriet who, after masquerading as a peasant girl named Martha, is trapped into being an indentured servant. Everything ends up being alright, however, because she falls madly in love Lionel, the farmer she is forced to serve. Von Flotow included The Last Rose of Summer in his opera as a sort of leitmotif for love.
Although it has been almost completely forgotten now, Martha was extremely popular during the mid-19th century. In fact, one can easily say that it is because of von Flotow’s opera that The Last Rose of Summer, which was the production’s highlight, has remained so popular.
With the exception of Moore and Stevenson’s folk song, the only part of Martha that has survived is the tenor aria Ach, So Fromm. This aria is more widely known by its Italian name M’appari tutt’amor.
Although The Last Rose of Summer was sung in English at the premiere of Martha, later productions of the opera featured the song being performed in German. Consequently, it is now most widely known to opera singers as “Letzte Rose”. Oddly enough, the song is sometimes sung in Italian as “Qui Sola Vergin Rosa”.
Although von Flotow does deserve credit for popularizing The Last Rose of Summer, he is also responsible for making many people think that the song has only two verses. A third verse which starts “So soon may I follow when friendships decay…” was excluded from the opera but, thankfully, has been restored in most modern recordings.
Source: Simon, Henry W. “100 Great Operas and their Stories”