Some thoughts on relating popular music to Jane Austen's time
Posted by Caroline, at her most pompous on November 17, 1997 at 13:45:49:
Since the subject of dating songs and dances has come up.......
Anyone who is determined to track down the history of popular songs, dances etc. for England can contact the English Folk Dance and Song Society, whose headquarters are at Cecil Sharpe House, London, near the zoo. The following web-page will give you their address, telephone number, and (maybe) a map of how to get there.
You should remember , however, that these people are for musicians, dancers and historians, and if you want them to put themselves out for you, you have to know what you are asking for. The Vaughn Williams Memorial Library is a huge collection of original folk, traditional and period music, and their shop has an enormous collection of recordings, sheet music and related paraphernalia. They do sell the Apted book of Country Dances, from which comes the dances of P&P2, and others.
Just one other thing. Country Dances, folksongs and children's rhymes are part of the oral tradition, and survive through the centuries because they touch the souls of people in some way. They are good tunes, strong words speaking to the deepest feelings of men and women, and often change subtly with age.(Patricia...you said that the Christmas songs are all Victorian......)
Here's an example.
In 1671, I believe, a printed songbook came out in Ireland with a tune in it called "Lilli Berlaro" It was labelled as "traditional" then, or something similar, giving rise to the assumption that it wasn't new. It is a march, and the words are rather vulgar and anti-establishment in tone.
There is a collection of words for the song " Lilli bullero" , again definitely rather anti-establishment which make rude remarks (and very rude suggestions) about King Charles and Prince Rupert.
In Lawrence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" there is a character, an old soldier who has the habit of constantly whistling "Lillibulero". Since Sterne didn't bother to amplify this, I assume that he expected his readers to know what he was talking about.
I learnt the tune from a military band master as a rousing march tune. I wasn't aware at the time that there was any words attached to it.
If you listen to the BBC World Service (I think it still exists), the rousing march tune, played by a military-type brass band at the opening of broadcasting is ..."Lillibulero"
What do you asssume from this, in relation to the era that we are studying? I would say that Jane Austen never sang it, but she might well know of it, and I wouldn't be at all astonished to find Major Sharpe and Sargeant Harper humming it whilst clambering about the hills of Spain.
Here's another ...a song, usually called "The Blacksmith"
The first verse goes like this;
"A Backsmith courted me
Nine months and better.
He fairly won my heart,
Wrote me a letter
With his hammer in his hand
He looked so clever!
And if I were with my love,
I'd live for ever.
I haven't a clue when it first came out, but it must have been when an erudite blacksmith was fairly rare. (Unless, of course you believe English Folklore which has it that a Smith is a being of Supernatural powers)
And then there is the meaning of the letter to think about....
Anyway, the tune, which is a very moving and powerful one, was snitched by John Bunyan for his Hymn "To be a Pilgrim" and was sung by early Wesleyans.
It is still sung in this form by the Church of England today.
Would Jane Austen have sung it? Quite possibly.
Now I could go on for ever about "Over the Hills and Far Away" and whether Wellington's Army sang it, and in what form, but that's old stuff, and I've said enough for one post!
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