Hunting the Wren

Brett Williams brettwi at
Sat Sep 9 09:28:26 PDT 1995

You wrote: 
>Greetings to all and especially cirostan from Liam,
>| I offer the assertion that this piece falls into that vast and grey
>| category of "unproven", just like Matty Groves-- though Matty Groves
>| appears as a reference in a play published in 1604 or so and the
>| audience is assumed to know exactly what the plotline of the song a
>| is, a manuscript firmly placing any version of either the text or 
>| tune(s) associated with the general plot of Matty Groves (Little 
>| Musgrave and Lady Barnard, Child #84, I theenk off the top of my 
>| head since the books are in a closet somewheres) has yet to be <| >| 
>| And yes, I read Child and Bronson for amusement...(grin)
>| cirostan
>I hope you're wrong, but suspect you're right. I've run across several 
>of these recently where I can find reference or a piece of the song in 
>period, but the earliest written version is 1700 or later.  My 
>favorite example is Bedlam Boys.  The version most often sung in the 
>SCA is the one I believe was popularized by Steeleye Span.  It's words 
>and are are close to, but not identical to, the earliest tune I could 
>find: Pill's to Purge Melancholy (the earliest printing containing 
>this is roughly 1698). There's 3 filks to the song in Le Prince D'Amor
>(1666, words only) and several period references to the song, but I've
>no clue how it was sung in period, only that something like it was.  ' 
>frustrates the heck out of me :-(.  I still sing it, though, 'cause 
>it's fun and "something very close to it was sung in period".
>- Liam Mac Mhuire
>(who also reads this stuff for amusement, but prefers reading Chappell 
>and Ravenscroft over Child, 'cause more of the fun ones are provably 
>pre-1650 :-).
>Well, I *like* the grim and gruesome ballads, the ones where everyone 
dies and one's day is generally Real Bad (grin). I once taught a class 
on Child Ballads at the Summer Solstice Folk Music Festival put on by 
California Traditonal Music Society and was asked "Aren't there any 

And y'know, I thought about it for a little while and couldn't come up 
with one other than the medieval ones about King John and the peasant 
(whose name escapes me) and Dame Ragnell (Gawaine and Lady Lionors). I 
offered the man the personal opinion that balladry was once a way to 
pass on news orally-- and is it not a fact that most of the information 
modern newscasters feel is newsworthy is not something we feel 
comfortable letting small children see?

Which leads to another question of mine:  What do you all (meaning the 
subscribers to the enitre list) feel about all the pieces that fall 
into the "unproven" category? Do we adhere strictly to the letter of 
the law and exclude all that which is undocumentable despite they can 
be placed in our period by reference or quotation? 

It's my feeling that if we exclude the unprovable then it would lead 
one to a natural conclusion that not only should we exclude the 
unproven, but also our own efforts as well. I, for one, fail to see the 
difference, from the viewpoint of absolute authenticity standards, 
between reinterpretation of fragments of period balladry/songs and 
original effort. Both are, at heart, according to the cry of the 
authenticity maven, "not period".

And that's not a step I want to take. One of my greatest joys in music 
is what I call 'redaction music": a demonstrably old piece of music or 
song that's been redone/reinterpreted anew. I love listening to it and 
doing it myself. I find redactions to be one of the special attractions 
of the Society.


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