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The Anglo-Scottish Ballad and its Imaginary Contexts

The Anglo-Scottish Ballad and its Imaginary Contexts

David Atkinson
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Open Book Publishers
Pages: 227
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  • Book Info
    The Anglo-Scottish Ballad and its Imaginary Contexts
    Book Description:

    This is the first book to combine contemporary debates in ballad studies with the insights of modern textual scholarship. Just like canonical literature and music, the ballad should not be seen as a uniquely authentic item inextricably tied to a documented source, but rather as an unstable structure subject to the vagaries of production, reception, and editing. Among the matters addressed are topics central to the subject, including ballad origins, oral and printed transmission, sound and writing, agency and editing, and textual and melodic indeterminacy and instability. While drawing on the time-honoured materials of ballad studies, the book offers a theoretical framework for the discipline to complement the largely ethnographic approach that has dominated in recent decades. Primarily directed at the community of ballad and folk song scholars, the book will be of interest to researchers in several adjacent fields, including folklore, oral literature, ethnomusicology, and textual scholarship.

    eISBN: 978-1-78374-029-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. References and Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. 1. Where Is the Ballad?
    (pp. 1-24)

    Empirically, the English-language ballad comprises a genre of narrative verse and melody, of largely (or effectively) anonymous origin, examples of which have been in existence in one form or another since at least the fifteenth century. The combination of perceived anonymity with multiplicity, with the concomitant possibility (frequently enhanced by considerable depth in time) of variation during the course of transmission, has then allowed conflicting principles of organization to attach to discussion of the ballad. Some of those that come to mind are: (i) the individual rendition, and the various ways in which it might be reproduced; (ii) the psychology...

  7. 2. On the Nature of Evidence
    (pp. 25-48)

    At the end of the previous chapter, reference was made to the evidence of all the texts and tunes that were not recorded. The burlesque ‘Giles Collins and Lady Alis’ provides evidence of a kind for the currency of the ‘George Collins’ ballad at an earlier date, because parody makes little sense without some knowledge of what is being parodied. But the nature of that currency is uncertain (there is no earlier printed record for ‘George Collins’). The heyday of folk song collecting in Britain falls into two distinct periods: the end of the eighteenth century and beginning of the...

  8. 3. Textual Authority and the Sources of Variance
    (pp. 49-68)

    The previous chapter touched on the iconic status accorded to oral tradition in ballad studies, the corollary of which is the denigration of print. Philip Bohlman writes: ‘So strong is the correlation of oral tradition with folk music that most definitions treat oral tradition as fundamental to folk music, if not its most salient feature.’¹ Loosely applied, ‘oral tradition’ might indicate nothing more precise than that ballads in general are amenable to singing or recitation, and/or that a particular item was collected from a singer who had memorized it. However, the implication of non-literacy is frequently there in the qualifier...

  9. 4. The Material Ballad
    (pp. 69-88)

    In a piece titled ‘Of the obseruation, and vse of things’, the courtier, diplomat, and essayist Sir William Cornwallis (c. 1579–1614) wrote:

    Pamphlets and lying Stories and News and twoo penny Poets, I would know them but beware of beeing familiar with them. My custome is to read these and presently to make vse of them. For they lie in my priuy; and when I come thither and haue occasion to imploy it, I read them (halfe a side at once is my ordinary), which when I haue read it, I vse in that kind that waste paper is...

  10. 5. Sound and Writing
    (pp. 89-118)

    As previous chapters have insisted, the ballad has coexisted in different media from early modern times right up to the present day. Although we know comparatively little for certain about the practice of ballad singing prior to the folk song revivals, there is no real reason to doubt that ballads were sung from an early date.¹ So, for four centuries and more, we can take it that the written ballad has happily coexisted with its vocal performance. More recently, however, the assumption has gained hold that the written ballad is, or ought to be, conceptually tied to its vocal performance....

  11. 6. Agency, Intention, and the Problem of Version (with a brief history of ballad editing)
    (pp. 119-148)

    To acknowledge the sources of variance, the material nature of the ballad, the synergy of sound and writing, and the end of the metaphysics of presence does not necessarily undermine the type/version paradigm of ballad studies, but it certainly complicates a matter that, since the dawn of the so-called ‘post-Child era of scientific folklore’, has appeared relatively unproblematic.¹ One of the reasons for this is that for much of the time the ballad has been represented by a single material instance, in the form of a set of words and a notated melody written down by a collector from a...

  12. 7. Palimpsest or texte génétique
    (pp. 149-172)

    The ballad, whatever else it may be, is an aesthetic artefact. Like other works, literary and musical alike, the same ballad can be presented in a number (perhaps any number) of different ways, in manuscript, print, recording, or performance. Of course, what constitutes the ‘same’ is potentially problematic, but common practice is to link ballad type with source and to fall into the habit of speaking of ‘so-and-so’s version of such-and-such a ballad’. Notwithstanding the fact that the ballad, a genre associated with performance, is amenable to unlimited successive and evanescent renditions, and can quite readily vary between one and...

  13. 8. Afterword: ‘All her friends cried out for shame’
    (pp. 173-182)

    Editing is all about making choices. Thomas Percy, as we have seen, was judged by later generations to have made the wrong choices and condemned in consequence to Albert Friedman’s ‘special hell reserved for bad editors’.¹ Others, too – Sabine Baring-Gould, for example – have come in for the same sort of criticism.² Ralph Vaughan Williams, who often neglected to write down more than just a few of the words of the songs he collected, seems to have attracted rather less opprobrium.³ Perhaps sins of commission are held in greater disdain than sins of omission. The issue remains alive and well with...

  14. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 183-202)
  15. Index
    (pp. 203-208)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-211)