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The Flowering Thorn

The Flowering Thorn: International Ballad Studies

edited by Thomas A. McKean
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    The Flowering Thorn
    Book Description:

    The flowering thorn expresses the dual nature of the ballad: at once a distinctive expression of European tradition, but also somewhat tricky to approach from a scholarly perspective, requiring a range of disciplines to illuminate its rich composition. Most of this latter quality has to do with the very features that characterize ballads... or narrative songs. These include an appearance of fragmentation; a wide range of cultural and social referents; complex, evocative symbolic language; and variation. The notable multiformity of meaning, text and tune is mirrored in scholarship, too. The Flowering Thorn is therefore wide ranging, with articles written by world authorities from the fields of folklore, history, literature, and ethnology, employing a variety of methodologies-structuralism to functionalism, repertoire studies to geographical explorations of cultural movement and change. The twenty-five selected contributions represent the latest trends in ballad scholarship, embracing the multi-disciplinary nature of the field today. The essays have their origins in the 1999 International Ballad Conference of the Kommission fur Volksdichtung (KfV), which focused particularly on ballads and social context; performance and repertoire; genre, motif, and classification. The revised, tailored, and expanded essays are divided into five sections-the interpretation of narrative song; structure and motif; context, version, and transmission; regions, reprints, and repertoires; and the mediating collector's offering a range of examples from fifteen different cultures, ten of them drawing on languages other than English, resulting in a series of personal journeys to the heart of one of Europe's richest, most enduring cultural creations. -Thomas McKean, from the Introduction CONTRIBUTORS: Mary Anne Alburger, David Atkinson, Julia C. Bishop, Valentina Bold, Katherine Campbell, Nicolae Constantinescu, Luisa Del Giudice, Sheila Douglas, David G. Engle, Frances J. Fischer, Simon Furey, Vic Gammon, Marjetka Golez-Kaucic, Pauline Greenhill, Cozette Griffin-Kremer, J. J. Dias Marques, William Bernard McCarthy, Isabelle Peere, Gerald Porter, James Porter, Roger de V. Renwick, Sigrid Rieuwerts, Michèle Simonsen, Larry Syndergaard, Stefaan Top, Larysa Vakhnina, Lynn Wollstadt

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-491-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)
    Thomas A. McKean

    The flowering thorn expresses the dual nature of the ballad: at once a distinctive expression of European tradition,² but also somewhat tricky to approach from a scholarly perspective, requiring a range of disciplines to illuminate its rich composition. Much of this latter quality has to do with the very features that characterize ballads, erzählenden Lieder, or narrative songs.³ These include an appearance of fragmentation, a wide range of cultural and social referents, complex, evocative symbolic language, and variation.

    The notable multiformity of meaning, text, and tune is mirrored in scholarship, too. The Flowering Thorn is therefore wide ranging, with articles...

  4. Now She’s Fairly Altered Her Meaning:: Interpreting Narrative Song

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 17-22)

      Songs have an infinite range of potential symbolic and functional meanings to both their singers and listeners. Scholars, like any other proactive ballad audience, bring a world of unique referents and a range of individual background information to the study of traditional song. Through a synthesis of internal and external evidence, the essays in this section tell us much about various song traditions but also about the methodological, and indeed the human concerns, of their authors. We prefer, incidentally, to use terms such as “interpretation” and “meaning” in relation to traditional song, rather than “decoding,” which suggests a studied obscurity...

    • Healing the Spider’s Bite: “Ballad Therapy” and Tarantismo
      (pp. 23-34)
      Luisa Del Giudice

      In 1959, Ernesto De Martino, ethnologist and scholar of comparative religion, led what has become a near-legendary expedition to the Salento (southeastern-most tip of the heel of the Italian boot) to study the phenomenon of tarantismo.¹ The book which resulted from this experience, La terra del rimorso, is considered the summa on tarantismo but remains, as yet, unpublished in English.² It takes its place in the centuries-old current of writing (medical, philosophical, and ecclesiastic) about this form of music and dance therapy, beginning in the fourteenth century. The phenomenon engaged major thinkers, including Leonardo da Vinci, in debates which pitted...

    • Music, Charm, and Seduction in British Traditional Songs and Ballads
      (pp. 35-54)
      Vic Gammon

      In this essay, I want to explore certain themes and intertextual elements in popular and traditional songs that circulated in Britain and Ireland, and wherever people from these islands went, roughly in the period from 1600 to 1850. I make no particular distinction between songs that traveled orally and those that circulated in print. Certainly these two media produce different characteristics in the material, but the distinction is largely an aesthetic one, and pieces regularly crossed between the two.¹

      Using the myth of the siren in Homer’s The Odyssey as a starting point,² I explore popular images of music, particularly...

    • “Places She Knew Very Well”: The Symbolic Economy of Women’s Travels in Traditional Newfoundland Ballads
      (pp. 55-66)
      Pauline Greenhill

      My earlier work has focused upon “outings” as the recognition and examination of lesbian/gay/queer possibilities in traditional ballads in North America (1995, 1997a, 1997b). Here I will consider a rather different kind of outing, associated with individuals’ movements from place to place: travel. The commonalities between these different forms of outings—as travel and “queering”—extend beyond their joking possibilities. Anything termed “queer” implies both oddity and suspiciousness, including its colloquial use to describe homosexuals and homosexuality. However, the noun queer’s appropriation and rehabilitation by gays and lesbians for self-description allows its verb counterpart, “to queer,” not only to recognize...

    • A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Positive Masculinity in the Ballads Sung by Scottish Women
      (pp. 67-76)
      Lynn Wollstadt

      This essay looks specifically at the way ballads popular among female singers construct masculinity, focusing on the intersections of gender, class, and power. Since large-scale ballad collection began in the eighteenth century, at least, both men and women have learned and passed on these traditional songs, so we may consider the Scottish ballad tradition to be carried by both sexes. According to the recordings held at the School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, however, men and women do not necessarily sing the same songs.¹ The ten songs most often recorded from female singers, for example, have only two titles...

    • Jesting with Edge Tools: The Dynamics of a Fragmentary Ballad Tradition
      (pp. 77-90)
      Gerald Porter

      Carpenters and Joiners are not hard to find in English traditional song. James Madison Carpenter is beginning to be recognized as one of the most significant collectors of English, as well as Scottish, song, while one of the best traditional singers at the beginning of this century was Mrs. Joiner of Chiswell Green in Hertfordshire (we do not know her first name) (Bishop 1998). Lucy Broadwood visited her on several occasions, and she sang a fine “Poacher’s Song.” This essay, though, is a search for the other carpenters and joiners, members of the occupations represented by those names. Although they...

    • The Servant Problem in Child Ballads
      (pp. 91-100)
      Roger deV. Renwick

      The central characters in most Child ballads are members of the gentry, often the nobility, and are even, in some cases, royalty. Because they own property, enjoy substantial income, possess unlimited leisure time, and wield significant power over others, they tend to live interesting lives—that is to say, they enjoy experiences which are the stuff of story and drama, the ballad genre’s raisons d’être. Members of the employee class, on the other hand—mostly household servants of one kind or another—are seldom ballad heroes and heroines, probably because in real life such working-class folk were too busy meeting...

    • May Day and Mayhem: Portraits of a Holiday in Eighteenth-Century Dublin Ballads
      (pp. 101-128)
      Cozette Griffin-Kremer

      What could be more enthralling for someone involved in calendar studies than finding ballads that appear to recount events occuring during a major holiday—May Day, in this case—and, to add to the pleasure, to hear from the source that they were sung and resung as an integral part of the holiday’s celebration? This is exactly what is presented here, if somewhat obscured because the ballads examined are embedded in extensive commentary by the author of a long and detailed article that appeared in the Dublin University Magazine in 1843,¹ which describes life in the city some sixty years...

  5. Malign Forces that Can Punish and Pardon:: Structure and Motif

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 131-134)

      Since the publication of key texts on structure and form in traditional narrative,¹ ballad scholars have sought to apply their methodology to the similar genre of narrative song. The resulting studies have concentrated on two main areas of research: the re-creation of songs using formulas or commonplaces, and Propp’s ideas of function and the tale role (1968).² This section presents two essays on structural themes and two on particular motifs within the ballad tradition which build upon the foundations developed in the previous essays. With the recent emphasis on context and interpretation in ballad studies, aspects of performance are now...

    • An Oddity of Catalan Folk Songs and Ballads
      (pp. 135-142)
      Simon Furey

      Catalonia lies on the Mediterranean coast, straddling the Pyrenees. Its people are very musical, and dancing in the streets is still commonplace. Anyone who has observed its national dance, the sardana, however, will have noticed a most peculiar feature: the dancers do not seem to dance in time to the music, yet the circles of dancers are all in time with each other. In fact, they are dancing to a rhythm that only coincides with the accompanying music after a fixed number of bars, a number which depends on the particular dance or part of it. It follows, therefore, that...

    • “Barbara Allen” and “The Gypsy Laddie”: Single-Rhyme Ballads in the Child Corpus
      (pp. 143-154)
      William Bernard McCarthy

      One summer, not long after graduating from college, I worked as assistant director of a YMCA camp in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. The camp nurse, Ida Lanning, was a local mountain woman retired from regular nursing practice. One day I chanced to ask her if she knew any really old songs. With a little prodding, she broke into a rendition of “Barbara Allen” (Child 84), the only such song she could recall. Thus, in my first inept attempt at fieldwork, the first ballad I ever collected was “Barbara Allen,” very nearly the most popular of the English and...

    • The Motif of Poisoning in Ukrainian Ballads
      (pp. 155-160)
      Larysa Vakhnina

      Poisoning for infidelity is a motif found throughout European tradition in both narratives and songs. One of the most popular ballads on this theme, “O Do Not Go, Hryts,” is considered the classic example of its type and is found not only in the Ukraine but also in the ballad traditions of many other, particularly Slavic, nations. In this essay, I propose to examine versions of this song and some of the theories about its origins.

      In The Ukrainian Folk Ballad, folklorist Oleksii Dei singles out the poisoning motif for special attention in the chapter “Love Ballads and Premarital Relations”:...

    • Contexts and Interpretations: The Walled-Up Wife Ballad and Other Related Texts
      (pp. 161-168)
      Nicolae Constantinescu

      In Cântecul epic eroic, the catalog of Romanian verse narratives, Amzulescu listed no fewer than 211 types of heroic song and 173 of the “family ballad” (1981, 1983). Including the so-called oral journals, Fochi arrives at a total of 401 types, “the second largest stock, after Denmark, in the field of folk-epic poetry” and concludes that Romania should be added to the seven main “ballad areas” of Europe (1985: 9, 115). Although more than one hundred of these types seem to be found only in the Romanian repertoire, the epic tradition of Romania is undoubtedly deeply rooted in European and...

  6. Recapturing the Journey:: Cruxes of Context, Version, and Transmission

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 169-174)

      Historical investigation is one of the classic ways of reading between the lines of ballad texts. Outside the contexts of performance and the text itself, a wealth of detail can be gained about the composers, their milieu, and, through interpolation, about the audience as well. Narrative songs, like any other cultural artifact, are products of their own time and place. Sheila Douglas’s essay on “Rosie Anderson” draws us into this world—in this case, a scandalous eighteenth-century divorce—and shows how emotion, cultural ethos, and popular opinion combine to create not just the ballad text itself but an evocative, sometimes...

    • The Life and Times of Rosie Anderson
      (pp. 175-182)
      Sheila Douglas

      In his note on the ballad of “Rosie Anderson,” twelve versions of which appear in his collection, Gavin Greig makes the following observations:

      Few traditional songs are so well and so widely known as “Rosie Anderson.” We may take it to be about a century old, judging from the date of the events to which it refers …. Rose Anderson it seems was the daughter of a merchant in Perth and was married at the age of sixteen to another Perth merchant. As a result of certain discoveries an action for divorce was raised by the aggrieved husband, which, after...

    • Scholar, Antischolar: Sir Alexander Gray’s Translations of the Danish Ballads
      (pp. 183-192)
      Larry Syndergaard

      Sir Alexander Gray is already one of the most important translators of Danish ballads with his existing books, Four-and-Forty (1954) and Historical Ballads of Denmark (1958). He left unpublished a third volume called, with characteristic ironic humor, “Posthumous Ballads.” With the publication of this work, Gray will arguably be the most significant of all the ninety translators of the Danish folkeviser. The key critical study finds that his translations work well as real ballads in Scots, a rare quality in any target language (Graves and Thomsen forthcoming).

      Gray made major contributions as professor of political economy at Aberdeen and Edinburgh,...

    • “George Collins” in Hampshire
      (pp. 193-204)
      David Atkinson

      Shortly after George B. Gardiner published texts of “George Collins” collected in Hampshire (Journal of the Folk-Song Society 1909: 299–302), Barbara M. Cra’ster (1910) argued that the ballad should be considered more or less cognate with the Scottish “Clerk Colvill” (Child 42). Gardiner himself had compared it with “Lady Alice” (Child 85). “George Collins” does, however, include a substantial narrative unit which is not present in the texts of “Lady Alice” printed by Child. This is the opening section, where George Collins walks out on a May morning and meets a fair pretty maid washing her marble stone; she...

    • From France to Brazil via Germany and Portugal: The Meandering Journey of a Traditional Ballad
      (pp. 205-218)
      J. J. Dias Marques

      During research on the popularity of the Middle Ages in nineteenth-century Portugal, I read a book published in 1848 by Gomes Monteiro, a translated anthology of German romantic poetry with a wide sampling of poems with medieval or folk themes, among which was the following by Ludwig Uhland (Text 1):

      At once this text brought to mind a ballad I knew from the Brazilian oral tradition, “The King of Spain’s Daughter.” Let us look at the oldest of its known versions, collected by Ester Pedreira in 1949 in the state of Bahia (Text 2):

      There are, of course, some differences...

    • “The White Fisher”: An Illegitimate Child Ballad from Aberdeenshire
      (pp. 219-244)
      Julia C. Bishop

      The James Madison Carpenter Collection was made principally in England and Scotland during the period 1929–35. This vast unpublished field collection contains a large number of ballads and other songs from the North East of Scotland, including some rare texts and tunes. Carpenter’s most prolific singer, Bell Duncan of Lambhill, in the parish of Forgue, Aberdeenshire, provided him with some sixty-five Child ballads alone, including a number of these rare songs. My encounter with her version of one such ballad, “The White Fisher” (Child 264), prompted the following examination of this little-known and seldom-studied song.¹

      “The White Fisher” has...

  7. Regions, Reprints, and Repertoires

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 245-248)

      Ballad and song collection had its main origins in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century search for regional and cultural identities in the face of sweeping political and cultural change; there is no better barometer of this trend than the song tradition itself. Whether reflecting strong family ties, as with the Dickie and Fowlie families of New Deer in the North East of Scotland (Katherine Campbell), or the regional, quasi-national Flemish tradition (Isabelle Peere, Stefaan Top), this movement always needs futher investigation. Within themes of regionality and nationality, Stefaan Top explores the issues involved in selecting and reprinting song collections for current...

    • Ballad Singing in New Deer
      (pp. 249-256)
      Katherine Campbell

      In ballad scholarship and folk-song research in general, scholars often focus on the songs themselves and their collectors, rather than the singers who contributed them. This is especially true in historical research, where it is often difficult to gather sufficient information about singers. Knowledge about these individuals—the context in which a song was sung, the identity of the singer, the singer’s social circumstances, and the way the song was collected—allows a more holistic understanding of a particular song and indeed of a singing tradition at a particular point in time. Gavin Greig, the subject of this essay, who,...

    • Old Flemish Songbook Reprints
      (pp. 257-264)
      Stefaan Top

      In 1989 the reprint of Jan Frans Willems’s collection Oude Vlaemsche Liederen [Old Flemish Songs] appeared, the first in a new series of Old Flemish Songbook Reprints. Volume five in this series appeared in 1998. The decision to reprint these old collections was made by the Koninklijke Belgische Commissie voor Volkskunde [Royal Belgian Ethnological Committee]. Three members of this committee are responsible for this particular project: Jozef Van Haver oversees the financial side, with the help of the Frans M. Olbrechts Foundation for the promotion of ethnological research in Flanders; Hubert Boone, leader of the Brabant Folk Orchestra and familiar...

    • Chants Populaires Flamands (1879): A Scholarly Field Collection and an Early Individual Repertoire
      (pp. 265-284)
      Isabelle Peere

      The research project introduced here deals with performance and repertoire. While this prominent concern in modern ballad and folk-song research de facto mostly relates to synchronic tradition, personal fieldwork, and knowledge of the singer’s background and personality, the Flemish repertoire described here was transcribed from the lips of a middle-class lady born in 1795 in Bruges, Belgium. Hardly more is known about her apart from the fact that she acquired most of her songs and recitations at an early age from her parents and in lacemaking school.

      This rich and diversified material, published as Ad.-R. Lootens’s and J. M. E....

    • The Corpus of French Ballads
      (pp. 285-294)
      Michèle Simonsen

      This essay aims simply to highlight some of the difficulties I encountered when trying to assess the range and importance of French traditional balladry, so I will mainly raise questions rather than suggest answers.

      The first difficulty lies in the ambiguity of the very term “French ballad.” Does it mean ballad in the French language, or ballad collected in the state of France? These are two very different things, if one bears in mind the particularities of French history and the creation of the French state, really a conglomerate of widely differing cultural and linguistic units. At the end of...

    • The Slovenian Folk and Literary Ballad
      (pp. 295-306)
      Marjetka Golež Kaučič

      For European folklorists, the definition of the term “ballad” has been more or less fixed since 1966, when it was codified by researchers in Freiburg as a narrative song with dramatic emphasis, irrespective of the ending, tragic or otherwise (Kumer 1998: 31). One always has this technical meaning in mind when using the word, though it is not generally used by traditional singers themselves (Brown 1998: 47–48). Numerous, roughly equivalent terms exist throughout Europe, of course, the most widely used being “narrative song” (Erzähllied in German, ballade in French, balada or pripovedna pesem in Slovenian). Others include “women’s songs”...

    • Scotland’s Nordic Ballads
      (pp. 307-318)
      Frances J. Fischer

      That traces of Scotland’s Nordic ballads could still be found in the last days of the nineteenth century is surprising, but there is nothing “commonplace” about the story of their texts, contexts, and what we know of them more than one thousand years after the Northmen came to Scotland.

      The area in question includes the Orkney and Shetland Islands, north of the Scottish mainland at approximately sixty degrees north latitude, about halfway between Norway and the Faroe Islands—or one third of the way from Norway to Iceland. In this essay, I will discuss how this geographic position combined with...

    • Simon Fraser’s Airs and Melodies [1816]: An Instrumental Collection as a Source of Scottish Gaelic Songs
      (pp. 319-336)
      Mary Anne Alburger

      From the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to Nova Scotia, collectors of Scottish Gaelic¹ songs, such as Francis Tolmie (1998), Margaret Fay Shaw (1955), and John Lorne Campbell (1990), had the singer and the song as the focus of their attention. As their publications have shown, these songs, some of which originated hundreds of years ago in Scotland, remained part of an oral tradition still vigorous during the twentieth century.

      One of those who collected music for Gaelic songs many years earlier was fiddler and composer Simon Fraser (1772/3–1852), born in the parish of Abertarf, near Loch Ness, Inverness-shire,...

  8. “Purement Scientific et archéologique”:: The Mediating Collector

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 337-340)

      The work of ballad collectors is many faceted and, answering F. J. Child’s aspiration that he “should wish to sift that matter thoroughly” (Hustvedt 1970: 248), this section addresses their diverse legacies. There has always been an element of resurrectionism in ballad studies, with collectors using words reminiscent of anatomists exhuming corpses (“Leur but est purement scientifique et archéologique”; see Lootens and Feys [1879] 1990: ii), reflecting, in a nutshell, the basic agendas of the time: excavation and the creation of the national and regional identities explored in the previous section.

      Not only did ballad traditions apparently require excavation, but...

    • The Case against Peter Buchan
      (pp. 341-352)
      Sigrid Rieuwerts

      It is a well-known fact that the North East of Scotland is particularly rich in traditional songs and ballads. In The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, almost one-third of Child’s A texts—those he considered the oldest and best examples of a specific ballad type—come from this area. One of Aberdeenshire’s chief and most voluminous collections of traditional ballads in the nineteenth century was undertaken by Peter Buchan (1790–1854). He not only edited important collections like Gleanings of Scarce Old Ballads (1825) and Ancient Ballads and Songs of the North of Scotland (1828) but also left invaluable manuscript...

    • Ballad Raids and Spoilt Songs: Collection as Colonization
      (pp. 353-362)
      Valentina Bold

      I would like to start this discussion of collection as colonization with a quote from Jock Duncan, a singer from North East Scotland, talking about local songmaker Geordie Thomson and Gavin Greig as a collector:

      Geordie wis assistant chemist at New Deer, he wis trainin there. An he wrote sangs at amazin speed. He wid hae written a sang a nicht, bit far are they aa? There’s nae mony left. He niver took life seriously, ye see?…

      Geordie likit the drink, ye see, an he took e train intae Aiberdeen ae Settirday nicht. The bobbies hidnae much tae dee at...

    • The Contribution of D. K. Wilgus to Ballad and Folksong Scholarship
      (pp. 363-376)
      David G. Engle, James Porter and Roger deV. Renwick

      D. K. Wilgus was a staunch member of the Kommission für Volksdichtung for many years. Donald Knight Wilgus died on Christmas morning, 1989, in Los Angeles, where he had served as professor of English and Anglo-American folk song at the University of California, Los Angeles, from 1963 till his retirement on June 30, 1989. His participation in the conferences of the Ballad Commission spanned more than twenty years, from its first meetings in the mid-1960s to the late 1980s. For this reason alone, it is fitting that an assessment of his work should appear in this volume. This look at...

  9. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 377-378)
    Thomas A. McKean
  10. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 379-382)
  11. General Index
    (pp. 383-386)
  12. Song Title Index
    (pp. 387-388)