Medieval Melodies for Filking

[ For other, similar pages, please see the Ravenscroft Songbook and the ballads songbook. -- greg ]

A collection assembled by Vladislav the Purple
lst edition, July A.S. XXXI

This collection of music is an attempt at a constructive solution to an endemic problem: although there is much music done in the SCA, most of it has nothing to do with the Middle Ages or Renaissance. (It is besides the point here to get into the same sort of flame war that regularly erupts on the SCA Usenet newsgroup over why such 18th/19th-c. style folksongs are not Medieval in style. Suffice it to say that they are not.)

One of the defenses for performing modern folksongs in an SCA context runs as follows: since almost no Scadians understand Provencal, Old French, or Latin, it is pointless to prepare songs in those languages for performance; modern folksongs in English, on the other hand, are accessible to the audience. However, the practice of filking, of taking an existing melody and providing new, usually topical and/or satirical, lyrics, is in fact the direct counterpart of the Medieval practice of writing contrafacta. Following a suggestion by Duke Sir Cariadoc of the Bow and Mistress Elizabeth Dendermonde, this collection provides a selection of authentic Medieval and Renaissance tunes for which one can write new lyrics, SCA-specific or not as one prefers.

This is not an attempt at a critical scholarly edition of these pieces, so no notes have been provided. All, however, have been newly transcribed from facsimilies of the originals. Several of the tunes have multiple versions with different rhythms; remember that most Medieval music was not written down with strict metrical information, so there are alternate possibilities. Pieces with an asterisk in the title originally had rhythmic information, which has been reproduced here; in deciding rhythms for some of the others, I sometimes used modern performances as guidelines. The rhythms I have provided, and in fact the exact sequences of notes, should be thought of as templates-if your poem doesn't quite fit the tune or scan right with the given rhythm, tweak the tune! (A Medieval performer certainly would have-for example, rewritten in duple rather than triple time, the Agincourt Carol is a damn good marching song, but so is the Christmas carol As I lay on Yoolis night.)

There are no copyright difficulties here. The people who wrote this music had no concept of intellectual property rights, and in any case have all been dead for at least five hundred years. These editions are in the public domain; people may freely copy and distribute them, and in fact are encouraged to do so! It is preferable that only complete copies of the collection, including this introductory page, be made, rather than just xeroxing one or two tunes; that is not a requirement, however. The only prohibition is trying to claim that you wrote the music yourself-not only is it discourteous to the memory of those who did, but there are people now alive who can and will give the lie to your claim.

Only a few melodies are included in this first version of the collection; the goal was to get something out. Similarly, while it would be desirable to produce a tape of the music for those who do not read modern notation, that is simply not going to happen for the forseeable future. (Anyone else who wants to put such a tape together has my blessings!) As my studies permit, I will add to this collection. If Scadians begin using Medieval tunes for their modern lyrics, then it will have served its purpose.

[ The midi files were provide by Lark of Cire Freunlaven (Laura McKinstry), mp3 conversions done by me. Some of them have rather slow tempos, but if you don't read music, they should be quite useful for learning the tunes. -- g]

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