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Help: Plague songs?

GUEST,lovingthedark 29 Oct 11 - 12:11 AM
Phil Cooper 29 Oct 11 - 12:27 AM
Jeri 29 Oct 11 - 12:35 AM
GUEST,999 29 Oct 11 - 12:59 AM
GUEST,JimP 29 Oct 11 - 02:09 AM
GUEST,Swaleman 29 Oct 11 - 03:48 AM
Paul Burke 29 Oct 11 - 04:48 AM
GUEST,jack Campin 29 Oct 11 - 04:49 AM
GUEST 29 Oct 11 - 07:03 AM
JohnInKansas 29 Oct 11 - 08:29 AM
Geoff the Duck 29 Oct 11 - 08:52 AM
Lighter 29 Oct 11 - 09:17 AM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 29 Oct 11 - 09:22 AM
Richard Bridge 29 Oct 11 - 09:25 AM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 29 Oct 11 - 09:35 AM
GUEST,blogward 29 Oct 11 - 09:49 AM
Lighter 29 Oct 11 - 10:13 AM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 30 Oct 11 - 03:03 AM
Jim Carroll 30 Oct 11 - 04:08 AM
Jack Campin 30 Oct 11 - 07:27 AM
Big Al Whittle 30 Oct 11 - 07:56 AM
GUEST,lovingthedark 30 Oct 11 - 08:27 PM
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Subject: Help: Plague songs?
From: GUEST,lovingthedark
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 12:11 AM

Hi! I'm art student writing a research paper for my black death in history and literature class, and I realized that I'd much rather be researching old ballads (always). The assignment is fairly open ended, but I'd love to be able to focus on the influence of plague on folk music.

I'm mostly worried about getting enough examples- "Betsy Bell and Mary Gray" is about a pair of women who venture into the woods in an attempt to escape the plague of 1645 and die anyway, but I'm having trouble roping up others.

One of the Shirburn Ballads from the 16th century concerns a plague in Jerusalem, and "Barbara Allen" was first recorded by Pepys in 1666, and may have referenced the plague if it were based on an actual event and not simply referring to heartbreak. Less directly relevant are "Sir Hugh", which I might manage to relate to the increase in antisemitic sentiments even though it predates the plague, and apparently "The Cutty Wren" is frequently attributed to the Peasant's Revolt, but I have yet to unearth any evidence for why. It looks unlikely.

Can you guys think of any others? If I don't have enough I'll likely end up expanding the topic, so I'd also love to hear about non-ballads, songs about other epidemics, or any later songs that seem remotely relevant.


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 12:27 AM

I believe the Ring around the Roses nursery rhyme is also plague related. I'm not sure if Lang A-Growing (or The Trees They Do Grow High) is directly plague related, but I'm sure someone else here could tell you if I was wrong about that. A newer song written in the 1970's by Al Stewart called Nostradamus has a line about plague in London. But that might be too recent for you project. (Fire and plague to London come in the year of 6 and 20's three--is the line).


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Jeri
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 12:35 AM

No, Ring Around the Rosie is not plague related.
Somebody thought it sounded good, and it gets passed on because it's more interesting than fact. Ring Around the Rosie didn't exist then. There's a thread (maybe more than one) of some length here somewhere.


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 12:59 AM

Henry Bett explains, "we owe the preservation of our nursery rhymes and nursery tales from remote ages to the astonishing persistence of popular tradition, reinforced by the characteristic conservatism of childhood"


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: GUEST,JimP
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 02:09 AM

I don't really buy it, but I've heard that "Parsley, sage, rosemary & tyme" refer to herbs used to counteract the "bad air" thought to have been the cause of the plague. Sounds like a stretch to me . . .


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: GUEST,Swaleman
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 03:48 AM

'The Brave Men of Eyam' by the Ripley Wayfarers on their 1972 album 'Five Wells' tells the story of the Derbyshire plague village Eyam, that shut itself off from the rest of the country when they discovered the plague within their midst.Background reading on the history of the village of Eyam would also be very informative.
Paul.


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Paul Burke
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 04:48 AM

I am sick, I must die. Lord have mercy on us !


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: GUEST,jack Campin
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 04:49 AM

Your best bet is the cholera epidemic of 1832.

Ballads didn't exist at the time of the Black Death, and any reference to it in balladry is going to very indirect in origin.


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: GUEST
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 07:03 AM

Phil- Thanks for the quick response. I love The Trees They Do Grow High. One variant seems imply that the young man dies in battle but the rest are fairly ambiguous lyrically, as far as I can tell. There's speculation that the song might have been based on the 17th c. marriage of Elizabeth Innes to Lord Craighton, who died shortly after, but I've been unable to identify what he died of. Most of the sources I'm seeing just rehash the same scanty information.

Jeri- Yes, several threads.

Jim- Yeah, even if they are all anti-plague herbs (and I'm sure they were), they've just got too many other aspects in common for me to interpret the song that way.

Swaleman- Informative indeed, thanks.

Paul B.- Thanks! I'd completely failed to find this one, it's perfect.

Jack- True, but the plague itself continued to strike each ensuing generation for centuries after the Black Death, so I am optimistic. I'll also settle for non-ballads. The cholera epidemic is fascinating, thank you.


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 08:29 AM

There have been at least dozens of "plagues" in history, and since we only know a little about even the more recent ones, nearly all of the commonly mentioned ones might have been an inspiration for folk memory - and hence for folk songs. Without some way to pin a song down to a time frame, with a known epidemic in the same or closely prior era, your report could look like "mostly guesswork."

In reality, few of the great pestilences have been conclusively pinned down to a specific disease, and there is remaining conjecture about them, with much less consistently accepted opinion about what particular "bug" caused many of them.

The "black death" name is generally reserved for a specific one, but various references use the term for more than one significant event, sometimes with little basis for attributing them all to the same infection(s). Recent DNA tests (once again) claim to have conclusively pinned down the particular infection, but it's still a little soon to know whether others will accept those conclusions.

A possibly useful source that I've used for resolving some of the ambiguities about "which plague, when" that occasionally arise has been Armies of Pestilence, by Cray. My book is buried "somewhere," but an old index shows that I got mine from Barnes ca. 2003, recent enough to be possibly still in print or fairly easily obtainable. I believe the ISBN for my paperback was 0760719152(?).

This book gives a mostly chronological summary of various significant outbreaks of diseases, with what were the then (a decade or so ago) current theories about causes, and is relatively "readable." The descriptions of symptoms might also be helpful in deciding whether a song actually does suggest the proper kind of "death" to be associated with a particular pestilence.

If you lack a handy resource for checking whether a song came from a particular "plague" it would give you a "citation" (or several) with some credibility, if you can lay your hands on it.

There are lots of books on the subject; but I found this one quite enjoyable reading in one of my more ghoulish phases.

John


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 08:52 AM

A book worth reading on the history of diseases is Plagues and Peoples (McNeill, 1976). It gives some form of social background to how diseases moved across the world. No folk songs that I can remember, but it was about thirty years back when I last read it.
A couple of links to Amazon -       "   
UK
US
Quack!
GtD.


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Lighter
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 09:17 AM

Who sings about plagues anyway? Who'd listen?


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 09:22 AM

Lighter - Herga FC did when I sang Cholera Morbus. (It was a theme evening).

Mick


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 09:25 AM

Surely "The Shaking of the Sheets" is about the Black Death even if it dies not date from it - on which I have no view.


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 09:35 AM

Bodleian has 3 ballads with plague as subject. One specifically refers to England:A recollection of the times. Or Englands looking-glass (Click the magnifying glass for full size image). The other two are David and Bersheba and Christs tears over Ierusalem. Or, A caveat for England to call to God for mercy, lest we be plagued for our contempt and wickedness.

(black death is not listed in the subject index).

Mick


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: GUEST,blogward
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 09:49 AM

Fascinating stuff. As Lighter says, if you walked into an inn with your lute and said, "Here's a song about a few people I knew who died of the plague" you might not be asked back in a hurry. It might also be that itinerant singers, etc. could have become associated with the spread of the disease!

What older folk tunes certainly communicate is how sudden death was part of daily life, for want of a better turn of phrase. The thought of people dying of heartbreak is much more palatable than what might have been the actual case. It's the same now - we want to hear about mysterious deaths rather than the diseases everyone succumbs to.

I feel a song coming on: an itch in the armpit, at least.


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Lighter
Date: 29 Oct 11 - 10:13 AM

But Mick (to follow up on blogward's insight), would you have been singing about it if people around you were dropping dead?

I doubt that any pandemic-related songs would have made it to the Renaissance Top Forty. Or top Four Hundred.

But seriously: such ballads may have been written, but I doubt they were much sung. We don't have any truly popular songs about AIDS or Spanish Influenza. Even "The Unfortunate Rake" got switched from syphilis to a gunshot as soon as possible.


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 30 Oct 11 - 03:03 AM

That's a good point Lighter; especially with a dwindling audience.


Apparently at least one troubador did write about the black death. I quote Wikipedia:

"There was one troubadour, writing in the lyric style long out of fashion, who was active in 1348. Peire Lunel de Montech composed the sorrowful sirventes "Meravilhar no·s devo pas las gens" during the height of the plague in Toulouse.".

The lyrics can be found here: Meravilhar no·s devo pas las gens


I had a look at the English Broadside Ballads Archive. There are 292 entries in the affliction/health category but on a quick look through the titles they were mostly about lovers; none that I could see looked genuinely plague-related (except maybe Jerusalem). In the death category there were 761 entries. I only glanced at the first 50 or so of these (some spiritual discussions there); but it might be worth going through them all. (Thanks to the long explanatory subtitles you can ignore many without needing to look at them)

Mick


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 Oct 11 - 04:08 AM

"even if it does not date from it" (you wrote "dies not date from it" Richard - nice Freudian slip!)
It may have been too taboo a subject to make songs on; there is no reference to such as far as I can see, in Defoe’s ‘Journal of The Plague Year’.
As Nicholas Carolan said about The Irish Famine â€" “People were too busy dying to make songs (radio programme on The Great Famine 'The Great Silence').
This is borne out by the fact that there are no referenced to broadside ballads on The Plague in Rollins' "Analytical Entries in The Stationers Register 1557-1709", though there is a list of songs on minor plagues of 1563, 1565, 1578, 1579, 1580, 1593, 1603, 1604, 1604, 1608 and 1632.
Could not find any reference to it in our dozen or so odd copies of The Roxborough or Bagford Ballads.
Don’t know if it is of any help, but this is from Walter G Bell’s excellent The Great Plague in London in 1665 (published 1924):

“A curious device to appease the public fears was the posting on the walls in prominent places of a broadside printed by Peter Cole in Cornhill. It bore in big type the heading, “The Four Great Years of the Plague, viz. 1593, 1603, 1625 and 1636â€쳌, and gave the figures from the Bills of Mortality, by which its increase and decrease is plainly discerned in all those years," the largest toll being 35,417 deaths from Plague in 1625. All other Plagues had, then, decreased, and that was reassuring. The sheet was rather frightening, with its grim ornamentation of skull and crossbones. Cole, the printer, having survived the worst months of Plague, became distracted and hanged himself in his warehouse.
There was another broadsheet which had a popular vogue, bearing the title " Londons Lord Have Mercy On Us," with a crude illustration seen overleaf, the figures from the Bills of the last seven Plagues in London, and some simple medical prescriptions. It was repeatedly printed during the Great Plague, each reprint bringing the weekly figures up to date. The harassed people found occupation in filling in the columns with the totals from the Bills as they were published, and many families treasured these simple but pathetic records. In the copy I have used the mortality is penned by a contemporary hand up to the autumn of 1666. It has some admonitory verseâ€"-

"The Red Crosse still is us'd, as it hath bin,
To shew they Christians are that are within :
And Lord have mercy on us on the door,
Puts thee in mind, to pray for them therefore.
The Watchman that attends the house of sorrow,
He may attend upon thy house to-morrow.
Oh where's the vows we to our God have made !
When death and sickness came with axe and spade,
And hurl'd our Brethren up in heaps apace,
Even forty thousand in a little space ;
The Plague among us is not yet removed,
Because that sin of us is still beloved.
Each spectacle of Death and Funerall,
Puts thee and I in mind, We must die all."

Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 30 Oct 11 - 07:27 AM

The biggest artwork to come out of the Black Death was Boccaccio's Decameron, which is structured as a set of stories told by a group of people hiding in a castle while the plague is around them.

The Edinburgh-based early music group Gaita did a show based around this:

http://gaita.co.uk/Decameron%20St%20Andrews%20flyer.pdf

This song might relate to the Black Death, the date is right:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_Mortem_Festinamus

Version with a follow-along facsimile score:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nx_0dW7Gca8

Lots of versions on the web. Interesting point made by somebody on The Session: the tune opens identically to the Shetland fiddle piece "Da Greenland Man's Tune".


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 30 Oct 11 - 07:56 AM

There's Jimmy Rogers TB Blues - TB was a big killer in inter war years before penicillin.

The Unfortunate Rake is taken by some to be a reference to the prevalence of venereal disease.

As for lyrics relating to bubonic plague - I'm not sure. I suppose those ballads where Death is personified, that might be a clue to how people dealt with the evil that was stalking the land and taking their loved ones.


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Subject: RE: Help: Plague songs?
From: GUEST,lovingthedark
Date: 30 Oct 11 - 08:27 PM

I don't think I can adequately express how awesome you all are.


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