Tam Lin: Love, Sacrifice, and Halloween

Image credit: Carsten Tolkmit — Laenulfean

I can’t really think about Halloween, or Samain, if you prefer, without thinking of the ballad of “Tam Lin,” especially this part:

 

And ance it fell upon a day
A cauld day and a snell,
When we were frae the hunting come,
That frae my horse I fell,
The Queen o’ Fairies she caught me,
In yon green hill to dwell.

And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years
We pay a teind to hell;
I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
I’m feard it be mysel.

But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday;
Then win me, win me, an ye will,
For weel I wat ye may.

Just at the mirk and midnight hour
The fairy folk will ride,
And they that wad their true-love win,
At Miles Cross they maun bide.

— “Tam Lin” Child Ballad 39A.24

“Tam Lin” is one of the Child Ballads, a collection of several hundred early English and Scottish popular ballads collected by Francis James Child. Most of the Child ballads are from the sixteenth century. Some few are older. You can find a list of the Child ballads by number here. A few of the ballads are older than the earliest printed sources; “Tam Lin” is one of those. It’s also one of the best known of the Child Ballads; there are lots of covers by folk rock bands, as well as more traditional singers.1)Probably the best known cover of Tam Lin is this 1969 performance by British folk rock band Fairport Convention, from their lovely Liege and Leaf album. You can find the entire text of the ballad in multiple versions at Abigail Akland’s site TamLin.org. You may be familiar with the story of Tam Lin from one of the novels inspired by the ballad2)A fair number of writers have used all or parts of the ballad of Tam Lin in their books. Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin and Elizabeth Marie Pope’s YA The Perilous Gard are two of my favorites. Other writers, principally Patricia McKillip in Winter Rose and Elizabeth Bear in Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water use the ballad in interesting and compelling ways..

The basic story line of “Tam Lin” tells how Tam Lin was kidnapped or “taken” by the queen of the fairies when he falls off a horse while hunting. He is destined to be sacrificed by the fairies on Halloween, as a teind or tithe to Hell, unless his mortal (and pregnant) lover Janet rescues him.

One of the reasons I find Tam Lin’s tale compelling is that it’s very much tied to the idea of seasons, and to the medieval Celtic idea that at Samain (or the modern related holiday Halloween) the Otherworld is closer to this world, and thus allows more ready passage between the two. Halloween is a liminal time. Samain was at its heart a harvest festival, a time when animals and crops were taken and consumed.

When Janet rescues her lover, it is at midnight, a time between day and night, a time that is thus, because of its liminal nature, outside of time, much the way Samain lies outside of time, between seasons.

The rescue takes place at Miles cross, that is, at a crossroads, a place between places, a place that is liminal in that it partakes of two or more places at once. Crossroads, places where two roads, or two tracks meet, represent decision points; you must choose which road to follow. Crossroads are liminal in that if you stand in the center, you are not really “at” any of the four roads; you are in a special place that is “between”; between roads, between choices. It is at once “some place,” and “no place.” Consequently, crossroads are rich with potential in folklore. They are, for instance, a logical place for a deal with the devil.

In the ballad of Tam Lin, Tam Lin, about to be offered as a tithe to Hell by the fairies, tells his mortal lover Janet that she must meet him and pull him from his horse when he rides with the fairies:

Just at the mirk and midnight hour
The fairy folk will ride,
And they that wad their true-love win,
At Miles Cross they maun bide.

Janet can rescue Tam Lin from the fairies at at midnight because it is between night and day, and at Miles Cross because it’s a crossroad, a place that is neither fairy nor mortal turf but that is “between” territories, and hence, neutral territory. Crossroads are places where journeys are shaped, because the traveler must make a choice about which path to take.

Although Samain was principally a harvest festival, a time for feasting and giving thanks for the harvest as you consume what won’t keep, there are several references to a tax due at Samain; for instance, in the Lebor Gabala Eirenn, during the reign of Nemed, we are told that the descendants of Nemed were taxed by the Fomoire:

§44. Two thirds of the progeny, the wheat, and the milk of the people of Ireland (had to be brought) every Samain to Mag Cetne. Wrath and sadness seized on the men of Ireland for the burden of the tax. They all went to fight against the Fomoraig.3)(Lebor Gabala Eirinn. Ed. Trans. R. A. S. MacAlister. Irish Text Society 1832.

Here Samain is associated with tax-gathering, paying a tithe, an appropriate thing to do at the end of the harvest. It might in fact be considered a kind of sacrifice, since the Formoire were certainly supernatural.

In the ballad, Tam Lin says that

Ay at the end of seven years
We pay a teind to hell;
I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
I’m feard it be mysel.

The idea of the teind, an old Northern word for a tithe, is particularly intriguing in light of the timing of Samain in the late autumn. The Medieval English Thomas Of Erceldoune (closely related to Child Ballad # Thomas the Rhymer) makes a similar reference to “þe foulle fende” fetching his fee in the form of a human sacrifice.  The fairy queen who absconded with Thomas when she found him sleeping under the Eldone Tree, tells him she must return him to the mortal world lest he be sacrificed:

“To Morne of helle þe foulle fende
Amange this folke will feche his fee;
And þou arts mekill mane and hende,—
I trowe full wele he wolde chose the.
ffor alle þe gold þat euer may bee,
þou bese neuer be trayede for mee;
þere fore with me I rede thou wende” (ll. 289–94).4)Thomas of Erceldoune is a 15h century medieval romance. The best text is that of the 15th century Lincoln Cathedral MS. 91. The Thornton Ms. Nixon, Ingeborg. Ed. Thomas of Erceldoune. Publications of the Department of English University of Copenhagen. Volume 9 Part 1 Thomas of Erceldoune. Volume 9 Part 2 Introductions, Commentary and Glossary. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 1980.

One of the more interesting aspects of the liminality of Halloween (and the earlier Samain) is that the ease of passage between the mortal world (or Middle Earth as Thomas of Erceldoune has it) and the fairy otherworld on Halloween, as on May Day (or Beltaine) marks the way the otherworld is dependent on this world, even if it’s only for occasional sacrificial victims. Another interesting facet is that in both the story of Tam Lin, saved by the love of his mortal sweetheart Janet, and in the case of Thomas the Rhymer, saved by the love of his immortal sweetheart the fairy Queen, love wins the day.

References   [ + ]

1. Probably the best known cover of Tam Lin is this 1969 performance by British folk rock band Fairport Convention, from their lovely Liege and Leaf album.
2. A fair number of writers have used all or parts of the ballad of Tam Lin in their books. Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin and Elizabeth Marie Pope’s YA The Perilous Gard are two of my favorites. Other writers, principally Patricia McKillip in Winter Rose and Elizabeth Bear in Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water use the ballad in interesting and compelling ways.
3. (Lebor Gabala Eirinn. Ed. Trans. R. A. S. MacAlister. Irish Text Society 1832.
4. Thomas of Erceldoune is a 15h century medieval romance. The best text is that of the 15th century Lincoln Cathedral MS. 91. The Thornton Ms. Nixon, Ingeborg. Ed. Thomas of Erceldoune. Publications of the Department of English University of Copenhagen. Volume 9 Part 1 Thomas of Erceldoune. Volume 9 Part 2 Introductions, Commentary and Glossary. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 1980.

O Magnum Mysterium

The origins of the Medieval Latin responsorial chant known as “O Magnum Mysterium” are not really clear any more. It’s early; before the tenth century.

“O Magnum Mysterium” was part of the matins service for Christmas. For much of the Middle Ages, matins took place roughly at midnight. The Latin text describes the nativity scene in which Christ was born and laid in a manger, and animals were witnesses to the sacrament of his birth:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.
Alleluia.

In English:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

The text was inspired by two verses of the New Testament, first Luke 2:7 (quoted here from the Wycliffe Bible) :

And sche bare hir first borun sone, and wrappide hym in clothis, and leide hym in a cratche, for ther was no place to hym in no chaumbir.

Or in Modern English:

And she bore her first born son, and wrapped him in cloths, and laid him in a cratche, for there was no place to him in no chamber.

The second part is derived from Isaiah 1.3 which refers to animals present at the birth of Christ:

An oxe knew his lord, and an asse knew the cratche of his lord; but Israel knewe not me, and my puple vndurstood not.

An ox knew his lord, and an ass knew the cratche of his lord; but Israel knew not me, and my people understood not.

The juxtaposition of the two verses in the minds of medieval illuminators and many poets led to the familiar scene of the nativity in a stable with the manger, with the resident animals looking on, and, in the words of Isaiah, they “knew” the baby as Christ.

It’s the reference to the manger, or cratche in Middle English, that led illuminators and others to set the scene in a stable. It isn’t strictly speaking accurate in terms of what the Greek text says, and what we know of the times. The Greek (Koine) word translated as “inn” is perhaps better thought of as the “guest room.”

Detail showing the Nativity

For me, as a child hearing carols and seeing Medieval and Renaissance depictions of the nativity in my parents’ books, the part that caught my imagination was the folklore around animals talking at midnight on Christmas Eve. This has been captured in the Christmas Carol known today as “The Friendly Beasts.” This was one of my favorite carols as a child.1)The Friendly Beasts” began life as a 12th century Latin song from France known as “Orientis Partibus,” translated and made popular in a version attributed to Robert Davis (1881-1950) in the 1920s.

There are a number of “settings” of the original Latin  of “O Magnum Mysterium”; I’m partial to Palestrina’s (c. 1525 – February 1594) six-part motet, but there are many others including settings by William Byrd, Gabrielli, and for modern composers, the incredibly beautiful version by Morten Laridsen, which, as the composer explains, was also inspired by Francisco de Zurbarán’s 1733 “Still Life With Lemons, Oranges and a Rose.”

For more modern versions, see Chanticleer’s; for Palestrina’s setting, see The Sixteen & Harry Christophers “O Magnum Mysterium.”

You can hear Morten Laridsen’s stunning “O Magnum Mysterium on YouTube.” O Magnum Mysterium is also part of Britten’s Ceremony of Carols.

References   [ + ]

1. The Friendly Beasts” began life as a 12th century Latin song from France known as “Orientis Partibus,” translated and made popular in a version attributed to Robert Davis (1881-1950) in the 1920s.

Angelus ad virginem

“Angelus ad virginem” is a Medieval Latin carol celebrating the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel telling the Virgin that she would conceive and bear the Christ child. The Latin lyrics are (here’s a rough translation):

1. Angelus ad virginem
Subintrans in conclave.
Virginis formidinum
Demulcens inquit “Ave.”
Ave regina virginum,
Coeliteraeque dominum
Concipies
Et paries
Intacta,
Salutem hominum.
Tu porta coeli facta
Medella criminum.

2. Quomodo conciperem,
quae virum non cognovi?
Qualiter infringerem,
quae firma mente vovi?
‘Spiritus sancti gratia
Perficiet haec omnia;
Ne timaes,
sed gaudeas,
secura,
quod castimonia
Manebit in te pura
Dei potentia.’

3. Ad haec virgo nobilis
Respondens inquit ei;
Ancilla sum humilis
Omnipotentis Dei.
Tibi coelesti nuntio,
Tanta secreti conscio,
Consentiens
Et cupiens
Videre
factum quod audio,
Parata sum parere
Dei consilio.

4. Angelus disparuit
Etstatim puellaris
Uterus intumuit
Vi partus salutaris.
Qui, circumdatus utero
Novem mensium numero,
Hinc Exiit
Et iniit
Conflictum,
Affigens humero
Crucem, qua dedit ictum
Hosti mortifero.

5. Eia Mater Domini,
Quae pacem reddidisti
Angelis et homini,
Cum Christum genuisti;
Tuem exora filium
Ut se nobis propitium
Exhibeat,
Et deleat
Peccata;
Praestans auxilium
Vita frui beta
Post hoc exsilium.

The carol appears to have been a popular one, preserved in several mss. It was so popular that in c. 1400 or so Chaucer alludes to it in Canterbury Tales, specifically, in “The Miller’s Tale,” where we are told that “hendy” Nicholas sings and accompanies himself on the psaltry:

And over all there lay a psaltery
Whereon he made an evening’s melody,
Playing so sweetly that the chamber rang;
And Angelus ad virginem he sang;
And after that he warbled the King’s Note:
Often in good voice was his merry throat.

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins created a very loose translation that’s perhaps better read as a poem inspired by the Latin hymn) under the title “Gabriel, from Heaven’s King.”

BL Arundel 248 f. 154v

BL MS Arundel 248 f. 154
see detail

In the British Library’s MS Arundel 248, a collection of various texts in several languages from the early 13th century, the Latin text and tune  for “Angelus ad virginem” is immediately followed with a related song in Middle English. This kind of macaronic preservation of songs in multiple languages, side-by-side, is a not uncommon practice in medieval manuscripts, and given that the Church used Latin and scribes used English and or French, or German or Irish or . .  . multilingual songbooks make a great deal of sense. The way this collection of folios are organized, with a brief crudely drawn staff for the tune, followed by the lyrics is very reminiscent of a modern musician’s cheat book.

Gabriel, fram heven-king
sent to þe maide sweete,
broute hir blisfúl tiding
and fair he gan hir greete:
5 “Heil be þu, ful of grace ari3t!
For Godes son, þis heven-li3t,
for mannes love
wil man bicome
and take
10 fles of þee, maide bri3t,
mankén free for to make
of sen and devles mi3t.”

Mildëlich him gan andswere
þe milde maide þanne:
15 “Wichëwise sold ich bere
[a] child withute manne?”
þangel seid, “Ne dred tee nout:
þurw þoligast sal been iwrout
þis ilch þing
20 warof tiding
ich bringe:
al mánken wurth ibout
þurw þine sweet childínge
and ut of pine ibrout.”

25 Wan þe maiden understood
and þangels wordes herde,
mildëlich with milde mood
to þangel hie andswerde:
“Ure lords þewe maid iwis
30 ich am, þat heer aboven is.
Anentis me
fulfurthed be
þi sawe
þat ich, sith his wil is,
35 [a] maid, withute lawe,
of moder have þe blis.”

Þangel went awei mid þan
al ut of hire si3te;
hire womb arise gan
40 þurw þoligastes mi3te.
In hir wes Crist bilok anon,
sooth God, sooth man in fles and bon,
and of hir fles
ibore wes
45 at time.
Warþurw us kam good won;
he bout us ut of pine
and let him for us slon.

Maiden-moder makëles,1)Makëles or “matchless” is a triple pun; she is without peer, without a mate, also used in the Middle English lyric “I Sing of a Maiden.”
50 of moder ful ibunde,
bid for us him þat tee ches,
at wam þu grace funde,
þat he forgive us sen and wrake
and clene of evri gelt us make
55 and heven-blis
wan ur time is
to sterve,
us give, for þine sake,
him so heer for to serve
60 þat he us to him take.

The Annunciation F. 26r from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry MS 65 in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, France. C. 1412–1416.

The tune for the Middle English version is usually easily recognized as the Latin hymn. The same Latin text of “Angelus ad virginem”  inspired a Basque Christmas carol “Birjina gaztettobat zegoen” collected by Charles Bordes.2)Archives de la tradition basque, 1895 Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) folklorist, novelist, and poet responsible for several hymns (including “Onward Christian Soldiers”) spent some time in the Basque region of Spain as a child, and translated the carol from Basque to English, in the process reducing the original 6 stanzas to 4.

1. The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame
“All hail” said he “thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

2. “For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

3. Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said,
“My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.”
Most highly favored lady. Gloria!

4. Of her, Emanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
“Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

This was one of my favorite childhood carols, familiar from a 1963 Time Life record, an album rich with Medieval carols, under the title “The Angel Gabriel.” It’s also been released as “Gabriel’s Message,” and “The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came.”

These are all available in contemporary recordings. “Angelus ad virginem” has been recorded by The Tallis Scholars on Christmas with the Tallis Scholars and by The Sixteen and Harry Christophers on the album Christus Natus Est. Anonymous 4 have recorded the Middle English version as Song: Gabriel, fram heven-king on their album On Yoolis Night — Medieval Carols & Motets. Sting on the album If On A Winter’s Night recorded the Basque derivative under the title “Gabriel’s Message.” There’s a video of Sting singing “Gabriel’s Message” here. I particularly favor Sting’s rendition because it’s both simple and complex in the way Medieval music often is, and he doesn’t sing in an artsy pseudo operatic tenor.

References   [ + ]

1. Makëles or “matchless” is a triple pun; she is without peer, without a mate, also used in the Middle English lyric “I Sing of a Maiden.”
2. Archives de la tradition basque, 1895

The Boar’s Head Carol

“The Boar’s Head Caro”l celebrates a Christmastide tradition of ceremonially cooking and presenting the boar’s head as a main course at a feast. Indeed, Queen’s college still celebrates a notable boar and an alum in “The Boar’s Head Carol.”

Tradition says, or at least William Henry Husk, Librarian to the Sacred Harmonic Society says,  that the boar’s head tradition of a feast at Queens derives from

Where an amusing tradition formerly current in Oxford concerning the boar’s head custom, which represented that usage as a commemoration of an act of valour performed by a student of the college, who, while walking in the neighbouring forest of Shotover and reading Aristotle, was suddenly attacked by a wild boar. The furious beast came open-mouthed upon the youth, who, however, very courageously, and with a happy presence of mind, thrust the volume he was reading down the boar’s throat, crying, “Græcum est,” and fairly choked the savage with the sage (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868 reprinted by Norwood Editions, Norwood, PA, 1973).

The Middle English version of The Boar’s Head Carol:

Chorus: Caput afri differo (The boar’s head I offer)
Reddens  laudes domino (Giving praises to the Lord).

The bores heed in hand bring I,
With garlans gay and rosemary,
I pray you all synge merely
Qui estis in convivio (As many as are in the feast).

The bores heed, I vnderstande,
Is the  chefe seruyce in this lande;
Loke, where euer it be fande,
Seruite cum cantico (Let us serve with song).

Be gladde lordes, both more and lasse,
For this hath ordeyned our stewarde
To chere you all this Christmasse,
The bores heed with mustarde.

I grew up hearing “The Boar’s Head” carol every Christmas, by way of a Time Life album my mom had. But I think my very favorite recording is the one from Harry Christopher’s The Sixteen. It’s a super collection of medieval and renaissance Christmas carols, and it’s neither too folksy nor too operatic. I’ve linked to it to the left; the iTunes album is Christmas Music from Medieval and Renaissance Europe – Harry Christophers & The Sixteen. You can also just buy The Boar’s Head Carol.

The Boar’s Head Carol

There was a Medieval Christmastide tradition of ceremonially cooking and presenting the boar’s head as a main course at a feast. Indeed, Queen’s college still celebrates a notable boar and an alum in “The Boar’s Head Carol.”

Tradition says, or at least William Henry Husk, Librarian to the Sacred Harmonic Society, says that the boar’s head tradition of a feast at Queens derives from

Where an amusing tradition formerly current in Oxford concerning the boar’s head custom, which represented that usage as a commemoration of an act of valour performed by a student of the college, who, while walking in the neighbouring forest of Shotover and reading Aristotle, was suddenly attacked by a wild boar. The furious beast came open-mouthed upon the youth, who, however, very courageously, and with a happy presence of mind, thrust the volume he was reading down the boar’s throat, crying, “Græcum est,” and fairly choked the savage with the sage.1)London: John Camden Hotten, 1868. Reprinted by Norwood Editions, Norwood, PA, 1973.

The Middle English version of The Boar’s Head Carol:

Chorus: Caput afri differo2)Latin:The boar’s head I offer.
Reddens laudes domino.3)Giving praises to the Lord.
The bores heed in hand bring I,
With garlans gay and rosemary,
I pray you all synge merely
Qui estis in convivio.4)Latin:As many as are in the feast.

The bores heed, I vnderstande,
Is the chefe seruyce in this lande;
Loke, where euer it be fande,
Seruite cum cantico.5)Latin: Let us serve with song.
Be gladde lordes, both more and lasse,
For this hath ordeyned our stewarde
To chere you all this Christmasse,
The bores heed with mustarde.

I grew up hearing “The Boar’s Head”carol every Christmas, by way a Time Life album my mom had. But I think my very favorite recording is the one from Harry Christopher’s The Sixteen on the album Christmas Music from Medieval and Renaissance Europe — Harry Christophers & The Sixteen. It’s a super collection of medieval and renaissance Christmas carols, neither too folksy nor too operatic. You can also just buy The Boar’s Head Carol on iTunes.

References   [ + ]

1. London: John Camden Hotten, 1868. Reprinted by Norwood Editions, Norwood, PA, 1973.
2. Latin:The boar’s head I offer.
3. Giving praises to the Lord.
4. Latin:As many as are in the feast.
5. Latin: Let us serve with song.

Gift Music Meme

This is the first meme I’ve created; I’d been thinking about it for a while, and with help and collusion from my friend MacAllister Stone, I think I’ve figured out how it might work. Won’t you play too?

The purpose of this meme is to gift a friend with a single song you’ve chosen from the iTunes store, and to have the friend blog about the song, and, if they like tag one or more of their friends. You have to have Apple’s free iTunes software for Mac or Windows to use the iTunes store.

  1. Pick one or more of your friends who listens to digital music; preferably someone who already has iTunes and an iTunes account, and who has a blog or Live Journal or something similar.
  2. Songs are .99 cents on iTunes; if people want to send MP3s directly, that’s up to them, but post the song title, artist, and album anyway. I suspect it’s possible to do this with other music services, but I don’t know. There are also lots of good sources for free music on the net; feel free to use those, or to publicize indie artists you like a lot. Oh, and there are free songs at Amazon too.

  3. Select the song you want to give.
  4. Post this meme on your blog or Live Journal, and list your friends, the songs you’ve chosen for them, (keep the song a secret until after you friend receives it, if you’d like), a link to their blog, and these instructions. Feel free to add a comment about why you chose the song.
  5. Purchase the single song for each friend, one at a time, (that is don’t buy three songs for three friends.) If you want to use the iTunes store Give music feature, find the song, then click the Gift button that’s included in the link for the album the song is on (near the top); then click the Gift button for that song. When you check out, you’ll be shown a form with spaces for your name, your friend’s name and email address, and a short message. This will be emailed to your friends, with instructions about how to download their gift songs. Use the message to send them a link to the permalink for your blog post about the meme so they’ll know to blog about the song. Use “Gift music” as the Tag if you tag posts.
  6. If you decide to “gift back” someone who tags you, please also tag someone else, so we can have a variety of musical tastes, journals, and people.

Troubleshooting: You do need to have the iTunes application installed before you try to download the song; it wouldn’t hurt to have it open either. If the URL in the email from the iTunes store doesn’t seem to work, try copying it, line by line to a new document, deleting any return characters or extra spaces your email program may have inserted as it “broke” the URL into separate lines.

I’m tagging the following innocent victims:

Updated: I’ve managed to find songs for some other people–that’s both hard and fun–so here are some others I’m tagging:

  • Dori Smith“Come on a My House” by Rosemary Clooney from 16 Most Requested Songs: Rosemary Clooney
  • Kip Manley “Avanti” by Corvax Corus from Mille Anni Passi Sunt

It’s not Medieval, but It is Irish: On Irish Traditonal Music

For the last couple of days, I’ve been tormented by various people’s organizations’ ideas of what Irish music sounds like; mostly it’s been sort of like elevator music in dialect. If I’m lucky, it’s been Enya. Here are some alternatives.

The Chieftains

You can’t really talk about traditional Irish music without mentioning the Chieftains. They brought traditional musicians into the twentieth century, aiding in not just popularizing Irish music all over the world, to generations, but doing an enmourmousservice in preserving the tradition. The Best of the Chieftains is a compilation from three of the earlier, and best, of the Chieftains’ albums: The Chieftains 7, The Chieftains 8, and Boil the Breakfast Early—three of the band’s recordings from the late 1970s. You”ll hear former members Matt Molloy on flute and vocalist/bodhran player Kevin Cunniffe now better known from Planxty, the Bothy band and solo performances. I’m particularly fond of “Boil The Breakfast Early” and “The Job of Journeywork.”

Gaelic Storm

This is a compilation album, featuring tunes from the previous three albums, with a couple of new ones. I think this is an excellent way to try Gaelic Storm. They began to become popular outside of Santa Monica, where they began as the favorite at a local Irish bar, after their appearance in the steerage scene of the film Titanic. My favorite of all their songs is “Johnny Jump Up,” about the mystical powers of cider. They’re a bar band, but they’re full of energy and lots of fun to listen to, even if you don’t dance.

Patrick Ball

Turlough O’Carolan (Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin) was a blind Irish harper and composer who lived 1670 to 1738. He left a legacy of fabulous music. To be fair, it’s clear that Turolough was well educated in current musical styles, but still, there’s much in the music he left us that is not typical of music in the eighteenth century. This album, which features the music of O’Carolan, is a lovely introduction to O’Carolan’s music, and a fine example of Patrick Ball’s talents.

Technorati Tags:Irish music

Gallic Carynx Find

Last week both Mirabillis.ca and Celtica Studica linked to stories about an incredible find of five Celtic battle trumpets, or carnyxes. The 470 objects and fragments of objects, (the find is stupendous in terms of the objects) were found at the end of September during a dig at Naves, in Correze in southern France, in a ditch hollowed out of a Gallic-Roman temple. Their find doubles the number carnyxes (or really, pieces of individual carnyxes) we have. Four of the carnyxes end in boar’s head bells, the fifth, a snake.

You can read about the find yourself here; it’s a remarkable collection, which would be notable for the other artifacts even without the carnyxes. This article has a picture.

deskford_carynxSometime around 1816, in a field in Deskford, near Leitchiston, in Banffshire, Scotland, the remains of a Carynx was found, one of only 5 to be found Europe-wide, until now. Dating as far back as between 100 and 300 C. E., the fragment was the “head” or bell of the carnnx, featuring a wild boars’ head (see the image on the left), was made of beaten bronze sheets and brass findings. At Deskford, in north-east Scotland, the finest example of the surviving carnyx parts was found, amongst other offerings, in a peat bog.

The carnyx is held vertically when played, so that the sound emerges from the bell of the trumpet, about 10 feet from the ground, well over the head of most men. When properly played, the carnyx is both loud and penetrating. Diodorus Siculus, discussing the Gauls, wrote “Their trumpets again are of a peculiar barbarian kind; they blow into them and produce a harsh sound which suits the tumult of war” (Hist. 5.30); later, Polybius in a description of the 225 B. C. E. battle of Telamon describes the terror of the Romans at the onslaught of the Celts. He emphasizes

the dreadful din, for there were innumerable hornblowers and trumpeters and, as the whole army were shouting their war-cries at the same time, there was such a tumult of sound that it seemed that not only the trumpeters and the soldiers but all the country round had got a voice and caught up the cry

(Hist. 29.5-9; Cited in Cunliffe, Barry. The Ancient Celts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. 103).

detail from the Gundestrup cauldron showing a carynx

Detail from the Gundestrup cauldron showing a carnyx

The carnyx is frequently featured on ancient Celtic coins, on Roman sculpture, even on sculpture in India. Perhaps the best known example of the carnyx in art is on one of the interior panels of the Gundestrup Cauldron (see image to your right). In the late 1990s John Kenny reconstructed a playable carnyx based on the fragments found in Deskford. He subsequently recorded several CDs featuring the Carnyx, even working with performers like Kathryn Tickell, who features the ancient horn on her album Ensemble Mystical, on the “Burning Babe” track. You can hear a bit of John Kenny playing the carnyx here, or on his Voice of the Carnyx album here.

Cantigas de Santa Maria

A few days ago Metafilter had an interesting link to this site about the Cantigas de Santa Maria. The Cantigas de Santa Maria represent one of the largest collections of solo songs from the middle ages. The manuscripts were written during the reign of King Alfonso X “El Sabio” (1221-1284), though probably not actually by him, all attributions aside. The Cantigas, 420 narrative and lyric poems in praise of the Virgin Mary, are preserved in four manscripts, all closely related, and include the music (with duration and timing information). The lyrics of the Cantigas are in Galician-Portuguese, the literary language of thirteenth century Castile. Two of the manuscripts are illuminated, with images closely related to the lyrics of the songs. The illustrations are not only charming works of art in their own right, they’re highly regarded by music historians for the information they provide about early music performance and instruments.
The Cantigas Database project, directed by Dr Stephen Parkinson, is assembling data about the cantigas, including possible sources of the texts, classifying and organizing them in terms of content and type, with plans to analyze the texts and their illustrations.

Somewhat surprisingly, I first learned of the Cantigas, not from one of the early music classes I took as an undergraduate, but from a passing reference in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. In II 2 of The Game of Kings the always allusive Lymond Crawford writes in a letter to Christian Stewart, delivered via the inadvertent services of Agnes Herries:

Rosa das rosas e Fror das frores
Dona das donas, Sennor das sennores

Those are lines from Cantiga 10; you can see the accompanying illumination here from Cantigas de Santa Maria: Spain, ca. 1280, Codex Ms. T. I. 1 (Cantigas [Canticles] de S. Maria). Done under Alfonso X. Madrid, El Escorial.

The iTunes music store has a couple of albums containing selections from the Cantigas, including one from the Unicorn Ensemble, featuring “Rosa das Rosa.” You can hear it here
The Cantigas de Santa Maria: V. Rosa das rosas
. In addition to the melodic tonalities we associate with Western European medieval music, you can also hear the influence of medieval Arabic classical music.

Matty Groves Reggae Style

Tuesdays are “new music” days at Apple’s iTunes Music store, so when I finished writing today, I took a look. There’s a lot of new stuff this week, and I do mean a lot. It looks like Apple’s managed to license pretty much the complete catalog of indie label Rounder Records. That’s pretty good news, from where I stand, since Rounder’s catalog includes lots of historic jazz, folk, and international traditional music, including the Alan Lomax Collection (available from Apple) and the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture, which includes people like Lead Belly and Jelly Roll Morton. Rounder owns and produces the Philo Records folkmusic label, so I was pretty happy to see them.

The name of one of the new Rounder bands caught my eye—”Blinky and the Roadmasters,” so I clicked the album title “Crucian Scratch Band Music.” The songs were rather pleasant reggae-influenced Caribbean. I listened to a couple samples from the album, then noticed the track “Matty Gru.”
Matty Gru
The name, as well as the lyrics, (the short sample includes the refrain “It is time to rise and go home, Rise up little Matty Gru and go home”) reminded me of Child Ballad 81 (sorry about the midi) “Matty Groves,” (you might know it as Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard”) and with good reason. According to the Library of Congress, “Matty Gru” entered Blinky and the Roadmaster’s play list via the local St. Croix U.S. Virgin Islands folk drama, “The King George Play.” After a bit more research I’ve learned that another St. Croix band is featured on Zoop Zoop Zoop, which includes not only Matty Gru, but The King George Play, which seems to be a local variant of the British mummer’s tradition.

You can download free legal MP3s of two songs from Blinky and the Roadmasters, “Ay Ay Ay” and “Cigar Win the Race” from Amazon, if you’re curious and don’t have access to Apple’s store.