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Origins: King Orfeo versions

11 May 06 - 04:58 PM (#1738358)
Subject: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: GUEST,sharyn

All you ballad scholars, listen up -- I would appreciate your help. A friend of mine wants to collate a singable version of Child 19, "King Orfeo." We have collected a number of recordings, including one by Frankie Armstrong, one by Alison McMorland, one by Holly Tannen, one by Malinky and one by John Stickle. What I want to know is where the modern singers (McMorland, Tannen and Armstrong) got their words. I have the complete Child (Dover edition in 5 volumes, hardback), which contains only one text and some notes on comparative literature (Scandinavian relations, etc.).Are they making this stuff up? Did they just flesh out the story or have some other versions come to light since Child was published? I don't have Bronson -- can anyone tell me if Bronson has any texts different from Child, or even publish them here, if he does?

I would appreciate leads to other versions, particularly those with good origins notes.

Thank you, Sharyn. You can PM me if you wish.

11 May 06 - 05:31 PM (#1738382)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)

My version of the Roud index has 15 entries for the song (though I think a handful are of the same version). My short version of Bronson gives 2 texts with tunes (John Stickle's version - the duplicate in Roud, and Kitty Anderson's). 2 of the entries are from American sources, though it's not clear if the same version is referred to or not.


11 May 06 - 09:40 PM (#1738552)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Stewie

Archie Fisher recorded it on an LP of the same name for Decca in 1970. Reissued on CD in 2002 on Phonograph Folk - Archie Fisher 'Orfeo' PHFCD1002. A very disappointing record: Fisher's singing is fine, but the backings are bloody awful.


11 May 06 - 11:45 PM (#1738639)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Bill D

I have several of those versions, (plus a version by Andrew Calhoun I could email to someone..)

This is not a frequently seen song, and as with other songs of this nature, some singers have worked on their own to adapt and create a decent version in order to sing it. I think I hear tunes 'borrowed' from other ballads, as well as thematic similarities. It may be pretty hard to trace exactly how it is gaining new life.

12 May 06 - 10:42 AM (#1739000)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: sharyn

Bill D,

If you could post your Andrew Calhoun text and any notes he has on hie recording thst would be great. You could post them here or PM me (I reset my cookie) or send them to me at

Please keep the information coming, folks -- I am on a tear about this song at the moment.



12 May 06 - 12:49 PM (#1739115)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Joe Offer

Well, let's see what's in the Traditional Ballad Index:

King Orfeo [Child 19]

DESCRIPTION: The wife of (King) Orfeo, perhaps in a fit of madness, flees from him and his court. Orfeo sets out to find her. Encountering her under guard in a high hall, he plays his pipes so well that his wife is returned to him.
AUTHOR: unknown
KEYWORDS: music magic separation madness royalty
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Hebr))
REFERENCES (30 citations):
Child 19, "King Orfeo" (1 text)
Bronson 19, "King Orfeo" (1 version plus 1 in addenda)
BronsonSinging 19, "King Orfeo" (2 versions: #1, #2)
Davis-More 11, pp. 79-80, "King Orfeo," comments only
OBB 15, "King Orfeo (A Shetland Ballad)" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Emily Lyle, _Fairies and Folk: Approaches to the Scottish Ballad Tradition_, Wissenschaflicher Verlag Trier, 2007, pp. 63-65, article "King Orpheus" (2 texts in parallel, 1 tune)
Karin Boklund-Lagopolou, _I have a yong suster: Popular song and Middle English lyric_, Four Courts Press, 2002, pp. 141-142, "(King Orfeo)" (1 text)
A. J. Bliss, editor, _Sir Orfeo_, second edition, Oxford University Press, 1966, pp. l-li, "King Orfeo" (1 text, from Child, as well as "Sir Orfeo." This edition is the standard edition of "Sir Orfeo," containing complete transcriptions of all three manuscripts of the romance)
RELATED: Versions of the Romance "Sir Orfeo" --
Brown/Robbins, _Index of Middle English Verse_, #3868
Digital Index of Middle English Verse #6172
A. J. Bliss, editor, _Sir Orfeo_, second edition, Oxford University Press, 1966, pp. 2-57, "Sir Orfeo" (3 texts, the texts of the three extant manuscripts, presenting a somewhat confusing set of parallel versions)
J. A. Burrow and Thorlac Turville-Petre, _A Book of Middle English_, second edition, 1996 (I cite the 1999 Blackwell paperback edition), pp. 112-131, "Sir Orfeo" (1 text, of 604 lines)
Boris Ford, editor, _The Age of Chaucer_ (The Pelican Guide to English Literature, Volume 1), Pelican, 1954, 1959, pp. 271-287, "Sir Orfeo" (1 text, of 580 lines although it says it is based on Sisam)
A. C. Gibbs, editor, _Middle English Romances_, York Medieval Texts, Northwestern University Press, 1966, pp. 84-103, "Sir Orfeo," of 590 lines, primarily from Auchinlek with expansions from Harley)
Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury, _The Middle English Breton Lays_, TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2001. Much of the material in this book is also available online), pp. 15-59, "Sir Orfeo" (1 text, of 604 lines, primarily from Auchinlek with expansions from Harley)
Thomas C. Rumble, editor, _The Breton Lays in Middle English_, 1964 (I use the 1967 Wayne State University paperback edition which corrects a few errors in the original printing), pp. 207-226, "Kyng Orfew" (1 text, of 604 lines, seemingly based on Ashmole 61)
Donald B. Sands, editor, _Middle English Verse Romances_, Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1966, pp. 185-200, "Sir Orfeo" (1 text, of 580 lines)
George Shuffelton, editor, _Codex Ashmole 61: A Compilation of Popular Middle English Verse_, TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2008, pp. 386-399 (1 text, of 603 lines, obviously based on Ashmole 61)
Stephen H. A. Shepherd, _Middle English Romance: A Norton Critical Edition_, Norton, 1995, pp. 174-190, "Sir Orfeo" (1 text, of 604 lines, primarily from Auchinlek with expansions from various sources)
Kenneth Sisam, editor, _Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose_, Oxford, 1925, pp. 13-31, "Sir Orfeo" (1 text, of 604 lines, primarily from Auchinlek with expansions from Harley)
Celia and Kenneth Sisam, _The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse_, Oxford University Press, 1970; corrected edition 1973, #37, p. 76-98, "Sir Orfeo" (1 text, of 605 lines, primarily from Auchinlek with expansions from Harley; presumably the same as SIsam's 1925 text)
Robert D. Stevick, editor, _Five Middle English Narratives_, Bobbs-Merrill, 1967, pp. 3-26, "Sir Orfeo" (1 txt, of 604 lines, based mostly on Auchinleck and Bliss's suggestions)
Modernized poetic version: J. R. R. Tolkien, translator, _Sir Gawain and the Green Knight * Pearl * Sir Orfeo_, with an introduction (and perhaps some light editing) by Christopher Tolkien, 1975 (I use the 1988 Ballantine edition), pp. 133-148, "Sir Orfeo"
Modernied prose version: Roger Sherman Loomis and Laura Hibbard Loomis, editors (and translators), _Medieval Romances_, 1957 (I use the undated Modern Library paperback), pp. 311-323, "Sir Orfeo"
Walter Hoyt French and Charles Brockway Hale, _Middle English Metrical Romances_, Prentice-Hall, 1930, pp. 323-341, "Sir Orfeo" (1 text, nominally of 602 lines, based mostly on Auchinlek with insertions from the others)
(No author), _The Auchinleck Manuscript: National Library of Scotland Advocates' MS. 19.2.1_, with an introduction by Derek Pearsall and I. C. Cunningham, The Scolar Press, 1977, (photographic reproduction of the manuscript), folios 299a-303ra, (no title, as the first 25 or so lines have been lost)
RELATED: Versions of the Romance "King Orphius" --
Rhiannon Purdie, _Shorter Scottish Medieval Romances: Florimond of Albany, Sir Colling the Knight, King Orphius, Roswall and Lillian_, Scottish Text Society, Fifth Sieries, No. 11, 2013, pp. 113-123, "King Orphius" (2 incomplete texts, one from NRS MS RH 13/35 and one from the David Laing papers)

Roud #136
John Stickle, "King Orfeo" (on FSB4, FSBBAL1)
NOTES [2168 words]: For a detailed analysis of the history of this ballad, see now Robert B. Waltz, Romancing the Ballad: How Orpheus the Minstrel became King Orfeo, Loomis House Press, 2013. (Shameless self-promotion -- but I don't get any royalties, so I'm not out to sell more books....) For additional bibliography, see Rice, pp. 481-501 (which lists 22 different editions plus articles, although many of the editions aren't very good).
Loosely based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Euridice. Observe, however, that "King Orfeo" has a happy endings: Orfeo and the Euridice figure are successfully reunited.
The same is true of what may be the direct source of this piece, the Middle English romance "Sir Orfeo." There is also an independent Scottish romance, "King Orphius," on the subject; Lyle, p. 66. She thinks it the direct source of the ballad, as does Purdie, p. 26, but the evidence is slight. The main reason given by Purdie, p. 27, is that the Scottish romance and the ballad both call Orfeo's wife "Isabel." That name, however, occurs only once in the extant text of "King Orphius" (line 80 -- a line that isn't found in the Laing text; see the text on pp. 116-117 and the Index of Names on p. 280). I would counter-argue that "Orpheus" is based in Portugal ("Portingale") (Purdie, p. 218), which does not at all match "King Orfeo."
Since Romancing the Ballad was published, another copy of "King Orphius" has been recognized by Purdie (p. 45); a transcription of this second manuscript is found in the mostly-uncatalogued papers of David Laing. That text plus the fragment in National Records of Scotland MS. RH13/35 combine to give us more information about that "King Orphius," although both are fragmentary and MS. RH13/35 is terribly decayed; despite much preservation work, it is hard to read.
The obvious thought is that "Sir Orfeo" and "King Orphius" are English and Scots versions of the same romance. The difficulty -- as was noted by Marion Stewart, who discovered "King Orphius" -- is that "Sir Orfeo" and "King Orphius," although they are very close in theme, share "[not] even a single recognizable shared line" (Purdie, p. 25). On its face, this would make literary dependence difficult. But the two texts of "King Orphius" also show major differences (Purdie, p. 46), implying much oral transmission. Or, perhaps, a major rewrite. There is also much divergence in the copies of "Sir Orfeo."
It should be noted that if the date of the Laing manuscript is correct, it is two and a half centuries more recent than the Auchinleck copy of "Sir Orfeo." The National Records of Scotland copy is also from the 1580s (specifically 1586), according to Purdie, p. 47. The strong evidence therefore is that "King Orphius" is a newer romance than "Sir Orfeo." Given the difference in dates, I don't think the difference in texts means all that much. Despite Lyle et al, I rather suspect that "King Orphius" is a Scottish rewrite of "Sir Orfeo," or of a memory of "Sir Orfeo." "King Orphius" may be the direct ancestor of the song "King Orfeo," but "Sir Orfeo" is also an ancestor of the ballad.
On the other hand, Burrow/Turville-Petre, p. 113, thinks that both "Sir Orfeo" and the Scottish piece are translations of the same original, possibly the "Lai d'Orphey," a French musical piece referred to in romances but now lost. But if this were so, why isn't there more common text? Something is very strange about these two pieces, and given the fragmentary state of "King Orphius," we may never be able to tell what. So I would not go so far as to claim that the ballad is derived from either romance, although my analysis in Romancing the Ballad demonstrates that "Sir Orfeo" (and so, probably "King Orphius" also) came first.
As a footnote to that, Boklund-Lagopolou, p. 142, claims a Swedish analogue to "King Orfeo" called "Harpan's Kraft"; I have not seen it, but given that the hero has a different name and the heroine is stolen by a river spirit, not the King of Faerie, I wouldn't place too much weight on the links.
The change to a happy ending is not the only alteration in the tale of "Orfeo" (a name I use to distinguish both ballad and romance hero from the Orpheus of classical myth). Shippey, p. 63, notes that Orfeo is fighting the forces of Elfland, not Hell (there may be a link with "Thomas Rymer" [Child 37] or something like it), and that Orfeo's honor as well as his music plays a role.
Incidentally, the ballad should perhaps be referred to under the title "Sir Orfeo," like the romance; Lyle, p. 61, points out that the name of the ballad was supplied by Child based on one version of the Middle English romance. Lyle refers to the song as "King Orpheus" after a Scottish version (also known as "Orpheus King of Portugal" after a title mentioned in the Complaynt of Scotland of c. 1550; Lyle, p. 66. Purdie seems to think that the Complaynt of Scotland reference is to "King Orphius").
The interesting question is how "Sir Orfeo" evolved the ending it did. Of the 50-odd Middle English romances, "Orfeo" is generally considered the best not by Chaucer or the Gawain-Poet or derived from the work of Marie of France ("Sir Orfeo," like the works of Marie, is considered a "Breton Lei"; Bennett/Gray, p. 138). CHEL1, pp. 294-295, for instance, declares that "The best [of the romances] in English are Sir Orfeo and Sir Launfal. The first of these, which is the story of Orpheus, is proof of what can be done by mere form[;] the classical fable is completely taken over, and turned into a fairy tale; hardly anything is left to it except what it owes to the Breton form of thought and expression." Sands, pp. 186-187 says that "few narrative poems conceal artfulness under disarming artlessness so well." Similarly Bennett/Gray comment that "Of all the English verse romances, Sir Orfeo is the one that in grace and charm, lightness and neatness, comes closest to the twelfth century lays of Marie de France, and to her conception of... the goodness... of love" (p. 138).
The story of Orpheus was known in the Middle Ages, from Virgil's Georgics (Book four, roughly lines 450-550 -- the very end of the book) and from Ovid's Metamorphoses (Book X, about lines 1-100) -- indeed, it seems to have been better known from Latin than Greek sources. The tale also occurs in the writings of Boethius, much philosophized (Loomis, p. 311; Burrow/Turville-Petre, p. 112), and Alfred the Great had translated Boethius into Old English (and Chaucer would put parts of it into Middle English, the "Boece"). But those accounts are clearly classical in their settings, and don't have the happy ending; it's not clear how the tale was converted to a romance, or how the ending changed into the form of the romances. If the original was indeed French, it's definitely lost (Sands, p. 185).
We do find allusions to a similar story in the writings of Walter Map (Bennett/Gray, p. 140, who however think this may be a Celtic tale; Bliss, p. xxxiii, is convinced that Map's story has already been influenced by the Orpheus legend, because in other stories, the kidnapped person is taken to a land of the living, but in Map's story, the victim is described as truly dead). Perhaps it was the combining of the Celtic and Orpheus stories which gave us the happy ending. There is a French mention of the story being told by an Irish bard (Loomis, p. 312). Certainly the piece has been thoroughly adapted to a medieval setting (Bennett/Gray, p. 143; Loomis, p. 313, notes that the Thrace of the Greek account has been transformed into Winchester!).
"Sir Orfeo" is now found in three MSS, with the earliest and best, the Auchinleck MS., from about 1330; the others, Harley 3810 and Ashmole 61, are of the fifteenth century (Sisam, p. 13). It has been suggested that the Auchinleck manuscript may have been used by Chaucer (Sands, p. 185), although I personally doubt it. It is sometimes suggested that another romance in that manuscript, the "Lay Le Friene," is by the same author (Sands, p. 185; this is partly because the beginning of "Lay Le Friene" is quoted in the non-Auchinleck manuscripts of "Sir Orfeo." The "Lay Le Friene," although a Breton Lei, should not be confused with Marie of France's Lei "Le Fresne," even though both are on the same theme).
Anderson, p. 136, mentions a further speculation (praising the poet while he is at it): "The author of Sir Launfal is by tradition the same shadowy Thomas Chestre to whom was attributed the Middle English Tristan. Sir Orfeo, believed by some to be also the work of Chestre, is a beautiful and sensitive retelling of the pathetic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice."
The Orfeo poem is #3868 in the Brown and Robbins Middle English Index.
The language of "Sir Orfeo" appears to be SW English but with some northern forms, perhaps introduced by a northern copyist; the whole is perhaps from a French or Breton original, and the translation perhaps is from the fourteenth century (Sisam, p. 13; Loomis, p. 313; Bliss, p. lii, refers specifically to the "Westminster-Middlesex dialect").
The complete edition of "Sir Orfeo" was published by A. J. Bliss in 1954; the second edition, cited in the references, came out in 1966. This edition cited all three manuscripts separately, and is considered definitive -- but it presents the three manuscripts separately and does not make any attempt to reconstruct the original text, instead making the peculiar comment (Bliss, p. xv) that "no critical text is possible; we can do better than to accept the text of A[uchinleck] as it stands." This frankly shows a complete misunderstanding of the role of a textual critic, but it means that there is still need of a critically edited text.
A semi-critical text of the romance (604 lines), based on Auchinleck, is available in Sisam, pp. 14-31. Unfortunately, it is not glossed (though the book has a complete glossary by J. R. R. Tolkien). A glossed version (580 lines) is available in Sands, pp. 187-200. Tolkien, pp. 133-148, prepared a modernized verse version following the same lineation as Sisam (though it is not just a crib; it's a true translation, which was published posthumously; it uses almost none of the language of the original).
The alternate version of "Sir Orfeo" found in manuscript Ashmole 61, under the name "King Orfew," was published (with a facsimile of the first page of the manuscript) on pp. 206-226 of Rumble. Rumble's presentation might cause us to think it's an independent romance from Auchinleck (that was my first thought), but it is in fact just a less pure version of the tale.
Although "Sir Orfeo" is probably a sufficient source for this ballad, Lyle thinks she finds other materials which might have gone into the mix. On p. 67, she mentions the romance of "Guy of Warwick" -- another item with a theme of visiting the underworld. Lyle is right that this is an unusual theme in romance. But with Vergil and Ovid and Homer all telling tales of visits to the underworld, I don't really think it necessary to ring in "Guy." Especially since the Orpheus legend seems to have been popular in Britain; in addition to the two romances and the ballad, Robert Henryson wrote an Orpheus poem (Lyle, p. 75). And the only thing "Guy of Warwick" could have taught the author of "Sir Orfeo" is that long-winded romances are hideous.
Lyle, p. 71, also notes thematic links to the Tristan legend, and to the Orpheus tale as found in Lefevre's Recueil des Hystoires Troyennes." The latter link is made particularly complicated by the fact that the Recueil was translated by Caxton, who then (in order to put it in more people's hands) printed it -- the first English printed book. If the Recueil is an influence, is it from a French source, or did an English writer know Caxton? (The difficulty with the latter hypothesis, of course, is that Caxton lived after the Auchinleck MS. was written. But it might have influenced the later stages of the transmission).
A scholar named Whitney Stokes suggested that the types of music played by Orfeo -- the notes of joy, of noy, and the gabber reel -- are related to the "sleep music," "sad music," and "joyful music" of an early Irish poem, "The Second Battle of Moytura" (Bliss, p. lvii). To which I can only say that the types of music aren't the same, the sounds of the words aren't the same, and there is no reason to connect an Irish (as opposed to Breton) source with Orfeo.
Several other ballads also derive loosely or from Middle English romance, or from the legends that underly it, examples being:
* "Hind Horn" [Child 17], from "King Horn" (3 MSS., including Cambridge Gg.4.27.2, which also contains "Floris and Blancheflour")
* "The Marriage of Sir Gawain" [Child 31], from "The Weddynge of Sir Gawe and Dame Ragnell" (1 defective MS, Bodleian MS Rawlinson C 86)
* "Blancheflour and Jellyflorice" [Child 300], from "Floris and Blancheflour" (4 MSS, including Cambridge Gg.4.27.2, which also contains "King Horn," and the Auchinlek MS, which also contains "Sir Orfeo") - RBW
  • Anderson: George K. Anderson, Old and Middle English Literature from the Beginnings to 1485, being volume I of "A History of English Literature," 1950 (I use the 1966 Collier paperback edition)
  • Bennett/Gray: J. A. W. Bennett, Middle Englich Literature, edited and completed by Douglas Gray and being a volume of the Oxford History of English Literature, 1986 (I use the 1990 Clarendon paperback)
  • Bliss: A. J. Bliss, editor, Sir Orfeo, second edition, Oxford University Press, 1966
  • Boklund-Lagopolou: Karin Boklund-Lagopolou, I have a yong suster: Popular song and Middle English lyric, Four Courts Press, 2002
  • Burrow/Turville-Petre: J. A. Burrow and Thorlac Turville-Petre, A Book of Middle English, second edition, 1996 (I use the 1999 Blackwell paperback edition)
  • CHEL1: Sir A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller, Editors, The Cambridge History of English Literature, Volume I: From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance, 1907 (I use the 1967 Cambridge edition)
  • Loomis: Roger sherman Loomis and Laura Hibbard Loomis, editors (and translators), Medieval Romances, 1957 (I use the undated Modern Library paperback)
  • Lyle: Emily Lyle, Fairies and Folk: Approaches to the Scottish Ballad Tradition, Wissenschaflicher Verlag Trier, 2007
  • Purdie: Rhiannon Purdie, Shorter Scottish Medieval Romances: Florimond of Albany, Sir Colling the Knight, King Orphius, Roswall and Lillian, Scottish Text Society, Fifth Sieries, No. 11, 2013
  • Rice: Joanne A. Rice, Middle English Romance: An Annotated Bibliography, 1955-1985, Garland Publishing, 1987
  • Rumble: Thomas C. Rumble, editor, The Breton Lays in Middle English, 1964 (I use the 1967 Wayne State University paperback edition which corrects a few errors in the original printing)
  • Sands: Donald B. Sands, editor, Middle English Verse Romances, Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1966
  • Shippey: Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth, revised edition, Houghton-Mifflin, 2003
  • Sisam: Kenneth Sisam, editor, Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose, Oxford, 1925
  • Tolkien: J. R. R. Tolkien, translator, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight * Pearl * Sir Orfeo, with an introduction (and perhaps some light editing) by Christopher Tolkien, 1975 (I use the 1988 Ballantine edition)
Last updated in version 4.5
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Not much - one version each in Bronson, Oxford Book of Ballads, Child, Digital Tradition, Davis-More (comments only - More Traditional Ballads of Virginia). One recording - by John Stickle on Folk Songs of Britain, Vol. IV and Classic Ballads of Britain and Ireland, V. 1," Rounder 1775. The Stickle recording on Rounder is only a 40-second fragment - is it the same on Folk Songs of Britain, Vol. IV?

12 May 06 - 03:41 PM (#1739278)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions

There is a book entirely devoted to the ballad - thought I had a copy but I was wrong.
Can't remember the name or the author.
Sorry to be so vague.

12 May 06 - 03:47 PM (#1739284)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions

Try these
Bliss, A. J. Sir Orfeo. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1966.
Brouland, Marie-Therese. Le Substrat celtique du lai breton anglais : Sir Orfeo. Paris: Didier Erudition. 1990.
Shuldham-Shaw, Patrick, The Ballad King Orfeo. In: Scottish Studie 20: 124*26. 1976.
Sisam, Kenneth, Sir Orfeo. In: Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1921.
Tolkien, J.R.R. , Sir Orfeo. In: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo. Translated by J.R.R. Tolkien. New York, Ballantine, 2003.

12 May 06 - 03:53 PM (#1739292)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: MMario

Child 19A
Bronson 19.2
Archive - School of Scottish Studies
Sung by Kitty Anderson
Collected by Francis M. Collinson

DER lived a king inta da aste,
[Scooner le groon]
Der lived a lady in da wast.
[Whar yorten han groon varley]

Dis king he has a huntin gaen,
Hes left his Lady Isabel alane.

Oh I wis yed never gaen away,
For at your hame is dol an wae.

For da king o Ferrie we his daert,
Has pierced your lady to da hert.

And aifter dem da king has gaen,
But whan he cam it was a grey stane.

Dan he took oot his pipes ta play,
Bit sair his hert wi dol an wae.

And first he played da notes o noy,
An dan he played da notes o joy.

An dan he played da god gabber reel,
Dat meicht ha made a sick hert hale.

Noo come ye in inta wir ha,
An come ye in among wis a.

Now hes gaen in inta der ha,
An hes gaen in among dem a.

Dan he took out his pipes to play,
Bit sair his hert wi dol an wae.

An first he played da notes o noy,
An dan he played da notes o joy.

An dan he played da god gabber reel,
Dat meicht ha made a sick hert hale.

Noo tell to us what ye will hae:
What sall we gie you for your play?

What I will hae I will you tell,
An dats me Lady Isabel.

Yees tak your lady, an yees gaeng hame,
An yees be king ower a your ain.

Hes taen his lady, an hes gaen hame,
An noo hes king ower a his ain.

Bronson 19.1
Sung by John Stickle – 1947

Will ye come in into our Ha'
[Scowan Earl grey]
Yes we'll come in into your Ha'
[For yetter kangra norla]

And we'll comin in into your ha'
And we'll come in among ye a'

First they played the notes o noy
Then they played the notes o joy

Then they played the good old gabber reel
Scowan Earl Grey
Which might a made a sick heart heal
For getter kangra norla

12 May 06 - 08:19 PM (#1739457)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

You may be interested in "Sir Orfeo," 13th-14th century, from "The Middle English Breton Lays," edited Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury. The text is from the Auchinlech MS of the medieval romance, of which the ballad is a brief paraphrase.
The text includes translation of old words and phrases that are unfamiliar to modern readers.

12 May 06 - 08:24 PM (#1739462)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Other medieval lays are available at the same Rochester website.

13 May 06 - 12:50 PM (#1739943)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: sharyn

Thanks to everyone so far. Let me restate what I want: I want information on the texts traditional and contemporary singers are using -- where did they get them? Did they make them up? I am interested in song notes on anybody's version that gives origins. Basically, I want to know if people are inventing "lost" verses, filling out the story from old manuscripts, or what. And I am interested in looking at the texts of any versions I have not seen.

13 May 06 - 02:01 PM (#1739992)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Susan of DT

Sharyn - Do you want text versions from collections other than Child and Bronson? I have a large number of ballad collections. I need to look thru them for you.

13 May 06 - 02:34 PM (#1740028)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Bill D

I wasn't clear that the Andrew Calhoun version was an MP3, not a written text...I will post that anyway, and a shorter one by Carol Wood

Carol Wood's version

(my personal space doesn't seem to have room for the Calhoun version, which is 11MGS..I'll find a file hosting site to post it)

13 May 06 - 02:41 PM (#1740034)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Roberto

From the notes in the booklet that goes with the Rounder cd edition of Child ballads (Classic Ballads of Britain and Ireland vol.1) from the recordings 1949-68 made by Peter Kennedy, Alan Lomax, Bob Copper, Seamus Ennis, Hamish Henderson, a.o., first published on lp on Caedmon:

When Patrick Shaw went to Shetland to collect songs, he was shown another text of this ballad that had appeared in The Shetland Times, written down from the recitation of Bruce Sutherland of Turf House, North Yell, in 1865. The refrain is clearly derived from the old Norn language used in Shetland: "Skoven arle gro / Hvor hjorten han gar arlig [Early green's the wood / Where the hart goes yearly.]" There was no extant version of the tune, however.
Ballad singer John Stickle (1875-1957) worked as a cooper at Baltasound on Unst, and later at Lerwick making barrels for the herring fisheries, which in his day were centered on Shetland, as oil is today. In his spare time, he was fiddler for local dances and weddings and he sang and recited at parties and concerts. Interestingly, his great-grandfather was a German man who had been rescued, still holding onto his fiddle, when his ship was wrecked on Unst in the 1770s. His son, Robert, John Stickle's grandfather, inherited his father's musical ability and was recognized as the best fiddle player in all Shetland ("that was in the first position.") He supposedly was press-ganged with his fiddle (his only duty being to play) and composed many of the tunes that are still popular in Shetland today. It was while his descendant John Stickle was singing nonsense songs to Patrick Shaw that he came out with this fragment, remarking, "Have you ever heard anything so silly as this?" He had no idea of its rarity and its significance to ballad scholars. Shaw at once thrilled to the realization that he was hearing the long-lost tune of the ballad of King Orfeo. recovered for this whisper from the Middle Ages was as little to be expected as that we should hear a horn from elfin-land blowing," he wrote. Bronson believed the melody to be a very ancient one; he includes John Stickle's version as well as another version with similar words, taken down by Francis Collinson from Kitty Anderson in Shetland in 1955.

13 May 06 - 02:49 PM (#1740041)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Bill D

ok, here's the Calhoun version it is a BIG file.

click on link, scroll to bottom of 'free'....scroll down will have a short wait and will have to copy 'code' to get the file...(paid members get faster service)

13 May 06 - 03:10 PM (#1740060)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: sharyn

Thank you all. Roberto -- do you know if the version from the Shetland newspaper is accesible anywhere? Bill -- I have no capacity to play any kind of sound files on my computer (only on a separate boombox or CD player -- I have a very old and meek Mac). Susan -- versions from ballad books would be great.

This is such a wonderful site: ask and ye shall receive in action.


13 May 06 - 05:43 PM (#1740149)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Malcolm Douglas

Only two sets have ever found with tunes (both in Shetland); both appear in Bronson, though it should be noted that the first text quoted above is not Kitty Anderson's as stated, but the Unst text published in 1880 and quoted by Child. Bronson prints the Anderson text, not Child's. The 1865 text is in Emily Lyle, Scottish Ballads (reprinted from Scottish Studies 20, 1976): that and Child's example are without music. According to Roud, a further text appears in Davis, More Traditional Ballads of Virginia, but I haven't seen that.

The assertion in the Rounder notes that "Bronson believed the melody to be a very ancient one" is incorrect. He said no such thing, nor did he imply it.

The Oxford book prints Child's text set to John Stickle's tune.

Recordings by Revival singers are generally arrangements of versions from traditional sources, though it may be that some have expanded texts collated from existing material, maybe in some cases including modern additions.

Carol Wood's recording, for instance, is an arrangement of Kitty Anderson's text, rendered partly (and not entirely accurately) into modern American English, with tune and one verse borrowed from John Stickle's set, and the refrain as he sang it. Bronson's note (III, 456, not quoted above) indicates that Kitty knew both forms of the refrain.

Andrew Calhoun's recording is a modernised re-write, apparently made up of bits from most or all available examples, and perhaps incorporating a few verses made up by himself and based upon details in the mediaeval romance; though it may be that these derive from the set printed by Emily Lyle, which I haven't seen. The tune is again John Stickle's. The refrain follows the (notional) English rendition quoted in the Rounder notes from the 1865 text.

Although the mediaeval romance may be the source on which the traditional song was based, we don't actually know that, so it's unsafe to make assumptions based on that suggestion. If there was a Breton lai on the subject, it has not survived.

The DT text (link at top of page) is that printed by Child; the prior source he specified is unfortunately not credited. For the record, it appeared in The Leisure Hour, February 14 1880, no 1468 p 109; "obtained from the singing of Andrew Coutts, an old man in Unst, Shetland, by Mr Biot Edmondston."

Both Shetland tunes are linked to in midi format, but they are not properly identified. Note that KNGORFEO.1.MID is Kitty Anderson's tune, while KNGORFEO.2.MID is John Stickle's.

13 May 06 - 05:54 PM (#1740157)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Malcolm Douglas

My reference to Bronson was wrong; it's volume IV, not volume III.

13 May 06 - 06:20 PM (#1740171)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Bill D

thanks,'s always good to get a clear picture of the relationships involved.

A tune and lyric combination can be very nice without being terribly traditional, and a trad version can sometimes be limited and un-inspiring, leading to revivalists tinkering with it...sometimes helpfully, sometimes not.

13 May 06 - 10:15 PM (#1740298)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Susan of DT

Well, I did not expect to find many versions in my books, but the only one I found was identical to Child. I have heard it sung within the last year, probably by Alison McMorland.

14 May 06 - 01:18 AM (#1740354)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: GUEST,Ebelkind

01 Jan 08 - 11:20 AM (#2226166)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Susan of DT

Does anyone have other versions of King Orfeo? I am not looking forward to transcribing them from recordings.

01 Jan 08 - 12:44 PM (#2226211)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Malcolm Douglas

All known traditional versions are listed (though not all are quoted in full) in this discussion. I still haven't seen the Virginia text, but the text in Lyle is substantial at 21 couplets with interleaved refrain. It was originally printed in The Shetland News, 25 August 1894, where it was described as having been noted from oral recitation by Bruce Sutherland at Gloup fishing station, North Yell, in 1865. Lyle quotes it from Patrick Shuldham-Shaw, 'The Ballad "King Orfeo"', in Scottish Studies 20, 1976, 124-6.

01 Jan 08 - 01:39 PM (#2226241)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Bill D

I sure haven't seen any others. Most recordings seem to be just following texts from Child and attempting to pronounce things clearly.

It's just not one of the ballads that seemed 'interesting' enough for singers to mess with.

01 Jan 08 - 02:02 PM (#2226249)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Bill D's link to the Calhoun version is broken.
The Calhoun version as recorded on Telfer's Cows is here: King Orfeo Telfer
I suspect that it is incomplete. Anyone have a copy?

A good version in modern English would be useful at Mudcat.

01 Jan 08 - 02:32 PM (#2226278)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

"Sir Orfeo" in 604 lines: Sir Orfeo

Edited by Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury, originally published in "The Middle English Breton Lays," Medieval Institute Publications, 1995. Paperback available from MIP for $16. paperback.

"Sir Orfeo" seems to be the source of the ballad "King Orfeo."

01 Jan 08 - 02:45 PM (#2226294)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: maeve

Stewie- Archie always intended to re-record it with very different instrumentation. I'd love to hear him with just the right pipes (I'm undecided which type), whatever else he cose for a new version.

Guest, sharyn- Thanks very much for posting. You and the other helpful 'catters have helped me pull it to a front burner for the winter.

MMario- I'm delighted to see the lyrics here. Thank you!

I love the piece itself, but haven't yet learned it thoroughly.


01 Jan 08 - 04:21 PM (#2226344)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Susan of DT

Thank you, Q. Now I don't have to transcribe it myself from a recording to get a singable version. Both the singable version and the lay will be entered into the DT.

01 Jan 08 - 05:42 PM (#2226381)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Bill D

Yes..those files (like Calhoun)expire if they are not accessed in a certain amount of time. I can do it again if anyone would like to hear it.

02 Jan 08 - 06:52 PM (#2227068)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: 12-stringer

The Virginia "King Orfeo" was reported as such in the 1930s, but the ID is retracted in "More Traditional Ballads," citing a 1957 article by Arthur Kyle Davis and Paul Clayton Worthington (same as 50s folksinger Paul Clayton?). Although the name "King Orpheo" appears in the first verse of the text, the song is identified as "The Whummil Bore" in the article and the book. Among its descendants in spirit are "The Keyhole in the Door" (I've heard two excellent versions of this by singers who refused to be recorded singing such material!) and the Allen Brothers' "Window Shade Blues."

For eight long years I have served the great King Orpheo
La fol da lil lilum
O fa da la lil lilio

And I have seen his daughter Estelle only once
(chorus as before)

She was fairer than the sun that shines

And she wore gold and diamonds rare

From the bottom of her feet to the top of her head

I saw her through the key hole of the door

Five was combing her hear [sic] golden hair

And four was buckling on her shoes

And three was putting on her clothes

Contributed 15 Nov 1934 by R E Lee Smith of Palmyra and Bumpass, VA, as sung by himself and brother Thomas P Smith; learned in Zionville, NC, 1912, from his grandmother and others. Smith calls the song "Orpheo" or "King Orpheo" in different communications and adds that two stanzas have been lost since he learned it. No melody seems to have been preserved.

14 May 20 - 12:42 AM (#4052363)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Joe Offer

Good stuff to look at in Mainly Norfolk.

14 May 20 - 06:42 AM (#4052409)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Steve Gardham

Just a little word of warning which can easily be ignored if not of interest, the Smiths are often bracketed with the likes of JJ Niles, in that they mysteriously produced a whole raft of versions of very scarce Child ballads over a short period of time.

14 May 20 - 08:06 AM (#4052424)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Jim Carroll

I gave my talk on Irish Child Ballads in Belfast last October in a tee-shirt reading "CHILD 19 RULES OK" :-)
Jim Carroll

14 May 20 - 10:11 AM (#4052442)
Subject: RE: Origins: King Orfeo versions
From: Steve Gardham

Nice one, Jim!
That's one up on me. Mine would say Child 20.