The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #125119   Message #2770890
Posted By: Artful Codger
21-Nov-09 - 10:51 PM
Thread Name: Early Broadsides (was-Music o t People)
Subject: RE: Early Broadsides (was-Music o t People)
By "informed" I mean those who have studied these things more assiduously than the likes of me. Ballads that are datable by known events are little source of contention, but I think most folks have the impression that most Child ballads naturally existed as part of the "oral tradition" before being set in print by the broadside industry, naive as this assumption often proves. However, if you date the broadside era from the 15th century, you're already talking earlier than the period most of us think: I think of it as the 18th and 19th centuries.

As for the flowering coinciding with the advent of print, why would print have helped the development of ballads among the overwhelmingly illiterate lower classes? Are ballads more closely associated with the gentry? What sort of songs would the people have sung prior to the flowering of ballads, and how would these songs have differed from what we consider a ballad? Might the ballads appear to be "flowering" only because more traces of them are left, or is a different aspect of development meant by the term?

It seems to me that print and the broadside industry may have had the opposite effect: that of condensing ballads into shorter, pithier commodities, more easily learned by anyone (rather than the village singer with a gifted memory). The older broadsides tend to be quite lengthy, which would seem to reflect common practice rather than an innovative fashion enabled by print.

Even being able to date events doesn't firmly fix the origins of songs, since history tends to repeat itself with alarming regularity. We have many examples of songs that are contextualized over and over, war to war, love affair to love affair, murder to murder, without substantial renovation. And traces might only be left once a ballad achieved a certain level of popularity in a more modern form, or randomly came to the attention of an early collector of sorts.

I'm posing these questions and possibilities (hardly new ones) as one who, despite singing these songs for decades, still has only a patchwork knowledge of their historical development. Assail away, ladies, assail away!