Ballads from Non-English Cultures

As you have probably noticed, most of the material in these web pages concerns only English ballads. Other cultures also produced ballad-type songs before 1600. For example, there is an extensive literature about Scandanavian ballads, although (they tell me) only one ballad has music which survives from before 1600 (see below).

The situation is better in Spain, where there is a large literature of vihuela music settings of narritive poetry. One secondary source which covers this field quite well is Binkley and Frenk's Spanish Romances of the Sixteenth Century, which is in the annotated bibliography mentioned on the main ballads page.

If you know of any other music of this type, other than the music which I'm already aware of (troubadour, trouvere, minnesanger, cantigas de santa maria), please send me email.

The one Scandanavian ballad with pre-1600 music is Verner Raven. Christian Mondrup ( has this to say about it:

[the text is] as published in 1591 by an early danish collector of ballads, commissioned by the king at that time. Also the source of the music is partly from that time. It is recorded in a treaty on music theory from 1646 by a danish scholar and leader of the grammar school in the town Ribe (West Jutland).

The song is a fairytale about a prince bewitched into a raven by his stepmother. The stepmother also dismisses the fiance of the prince's sister Irmindlin in order to marry her to her own sister's son. As Irmindlin weeps of her lost lover the raven comes flying and promises to bring her to him if she will give him her first born child. Like in most ballads of this type the first child turns out to be a son (daughters were not that important :-) which Irmindlin must give to the raven. He drinks half of the blood from the child's heart and is freed from his spelling. Afterwards - in this version of the ballad - we get an all happy ending: the newborn son is called back to life. Other version of the ballad are not that 'sloppy'.

He has transcribed the melody of ballad, and wrote a 16c-style arrangement, using the Mtx music typesetting sytem. You can download a the ballad in pdf format, a zip file of the Mtx source or the ballad in postscript.

Return to the pre-1600 Ballads project.

Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl)