Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Full English

It's not historical (or rather, it's mostly relevant to about a century ago), but there's a brand new web resource for the study of English folk culture: the Full English, an archive hosted by the English Folk Dance and Song Society. It's a browseable and searchable collection of notes from many of the most important early folklore collectors in English folkloristics, and it's entirely free thanks to a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Go check it out; it's pretty amazing.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Authenticity, Comprehension, "Matona," Folklore, and Musical Performance

The first time I ever heard "Matona, Mia Cara" I knew the lovely Italian Renaissance text was entirely beyond my comprehension, but musically I felt I'd heard enough choral music to feel like I had some sense of what I was hearing anyhow.

I was wrong.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ballads so old they're new to you

Here are EBBA links for ten ballads you've almost certainly never heard of, which might be interesting to revive (though in all cases, making them work as well for a modern audience would take effort beyond just learning the words and a matching melody). The newest among them is from 1625.

Broadsheets, Folksong, Copyright, and the Early Publishing Industry

In 1473, a London bookseller named William Caxton collaborated with a Flemish printer named Colard Mansion on a project which would bring overwhelming changes to English culture: The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, Caxton's own translation of a Burgundian account of the Trojan War. It was the first book ever printed in the English language, and Caxton sold enough copies that he proceeded to invest in setting up his own press in Westminster - the first in Great Britain. In 1476, he released the first title from his Westminster press: a mass-produced edition of the Canterbury Tales (which draws on enough folkloric material I guarantee I'm going to write a post or two on it later).

Caxton would go on to print 87 known titles, 26 of which were his own translations of foreign materials. While his aims were much the same as any modern translator's - accurately presenting the foreign material to English readers - he doesn't seem to have been very good at it, and a great many foreign words show up in his translations. ("Recuyell," for example, is not and hasn't ever been an English word, and I would never be able to read his 1481 History of Reynard the Fox without modern footnotes explaining the Dutch words therein.) Still, business was good, and by the 1480s, other printers had begun to operate their own presses in competition with Caxton. Caxton responded by expanding his shop through the help of his business partner, Wynkyn de Worde, who would go on to take over the business after Caxton's death in 1492. By the 1500s, there were a great many of them, and the publishing industry ballooned. Soon, printed material was a part of everyday life for the middle classes.

One of the products of this explosion was a sharp upswing in the composition and spread of ballads.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Barbara Allen's Cruelty, or the Young Man's Tragedy

In Scarlet Town where I was bound,
There was a fair Maid dwelling,
Whom I had choosd to be my own,
Her name was Barbara Allen.

All in the merry Month of May,
When green leaves were a springing
This young Man on his Death-bed lay,
For love of Barbara Allen.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Amleth, continued

Shakespeare ends his Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark with the titular prince dying as he gains his revenge. But in this it is like other Jacobean revenge plays, and quite unlike Scandinavian revenge stories; Amleth is no exception. When we last left our hero, he had won, and become King of Jutland - and that, of course, leaves room for a sequel. Amleth, after all, has just slaughtered Feng, who will of course have an avenger of his own. Here's the follow-up, from Book IV of the Gesta Danorum. (And you thought Hamlet II was just a terrible comedy.)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Amleth, son of Horwendil

The following story comes from Book III of the Gesta Danorum, a chronicle of Danish history as understood by its author, Saxo Grammaticus. The Gesta Danorum, or "Deeds of the Danes", was written ca. 1185, and is available online from OMACL. This translation is by Oliver Elton, and was published in 1905. If the story sounds at all familiar, well, it's not a coincidence.