Once again, I turn to Google to put “William Napier” in historical context. Who was he?
According to a product listing on the AllMusic web site, William Napier was a Scottish publisher who had fallen on hard times. Haydn saved him. Here’s the story:
The first of the three volumes of 50 settings each for Napier was partly motivated by charity on Haydn’s part, as in 1791, Napier was forced into bankruptcy and looking at serving some time in debtor’s prison; for a man with 12 kids, that must’ve seemed like a raw deal. Haydn spun out the first 100 settings heard here in typically short order, and Napier was saved; a further 50 were published in 1795. Setting Scots’ popular melodies turned out to be something of a cottage industry for Haydn in his last years, as overall he produced 400 such settings for various publishing houses. It proved highly profitable for Haydn, and as he was in failing health when the final commissions for yet more came around, he was able to delegate that work to students. All of these pieces, however, are presumed to have come from the master himself.
For a very busy, getting-on-in-years master like Haydn, I think it’s quite something that he took the time to dash off a bunch of songs to get Napier out of debtor’s prison.