Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), Suite on English folk Tunes (1974).   Dit document is 'work in progress'  © Daan Admiraal, 2016.
Britten componeerde zijn 'Suite on English Folk Tunes - 'A Time There Was' in 1974. Het werd zijn laatste orkestwerk, de componist zou twee jaar later overlijden aan een hartkwaal.
De volledige titel luidt: 'Suite on English Folk Tunes - 'A time there was', waarbij de toevoeging 'A time there was' een citaat is uit het gedicht  Before Life And After van Thomas Hardy1 (1840-1928). Er staat een langer citaat uit het gedicht de titelpagina van de partituur:
 
                        A time there was - as one may guess
                        And as, indeed, earth's testimonies tell -
                        Before the birth of consciousness,
                        When all went well.
 
  • Het complete gedicht 2 staat in een voetnoot bij dit artikel. Uit het gedicht spreekt een nostalgisch verlangen naar wat geweest is en verloren is gegaan. Dat verlangen is zeker van toepassing op de volksliedkunst en de volkdans die in de 19e en 20e eeuw met de industrialisatie en de verstedelijking in verval raakten. Britten was al lang goed bekend met de poezie van Thomas Hardy. Hij had in 1953 een liederencyclus geschreven voor tenor en piano op 8 gedichten van Thomas Hardy, Winter Words, Op. 52 3. Het laatste lied uit die cyclus is gebaseerd op het gedicht Before Life And After.
  •  
    De partituur van de Suite on English Folk Tunes is opgedragen aan Percy Grainger4 : Lovingly and reverently dedicated to the memory of Percy Grainger.
    De Suite is gebaseerd op tien originele melodieën, in elk deel zitten er twee. Voor een groot deel zijn het dansliedjes afkomstig uit The English Dancing Master4 (1651) van John Playford (1623–1686/7).
     
     
  •  
    Deze, vooral ook voor danshistorici uiterst belangwekkende, publicatie beleefde onder de titel The Dancing Master vele herdrukken tot en met de 18e editie  (1728). Playford geeft niet alleen de 'tunes' maar ook uitgebreide aanwijzingen over de passen.
    Naast de tunes afkomstig uit The Dancing Master gebruikte Britten enkele volksliederen die aan het begin van de 20e eeuw werden verzameld, onder andere door Percy Grainger, die van 1905-1909 in Engeland volksliederen verzamelde en ze opnam door middel van de fonograaf. Zie: B.B.'s bronnen5.
     
    Britten citeerde de tunes niet letterlijk maar hij gebruikte door fragmentatie elementen uit de liedjes als bouwstenen voor zijn compositie. Alleen in het laatste deel van de Suite gebruikte hij het lied Lord Melbourne, gespeeld door de althobo, in zijn originele vorm, zoals hij werd opgetekend door Grainger. Het heeft Grainger veel moeite gekost het vrije ritme van de zanger in noten te vatten. In Britten Suite opereert de althobo in een tempo vrij van dat van het orkest en de uitvoering van het ritme is freely.
     
    Benjamin Britten schrijft in het voorwoord in de partituur:
    It was written down in his usual meticulous detail 5 by Pecy Grainger, to whose memory the Suite is 'lovingly and reverently' dedidated. B.B.
     
    Britten had het derde deel uit de suite, Hankin Booby, al gecompeneerd ter gelegenheid van de opening van de Queen Elisabeth Hall in 1967. De andere vier delen werden najaar 1974 gecomponeerd waardoor de vijfdelige Suite on English folk Tunes onstond. Met een bezetting van dubbel hout, twee hoorns en twee trompetten, harp, pauken en slagwerk, strijkers is het een typisch kamerorkest. De première in 1975 werd dan ook gespeeld door het English Chamber Orchestra.

     

    1. Cakes and Ale;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      We'll Wed and We'll Bed, Stepney Cakes and Ale

    2. The Bitter Withy;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The bitter withy; The mermaid

    3. Hankin Booby;

    4. Hunt the Squirrel;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Hunt the squirrel; The tuneful nightingale

    5. Lord Melbourne;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Epping Forest; Lord Melbourne

    1. Cakes and Ale.

    The first of the five movements, Cakes and Ale, is a scherzo, marked fast and rough and making apt use of percussion. It treats two tunes, We’ll Wed and Stepney Cakes and Ale. The suite was Britten’s last orchestral work, and there is a certain poignancy in the epigraph from Thomas Hardy, ‘A time there was, before the birth of consciousness, when all went well‘, words set by Britten in the last song of his Hardy cycle Winter Words.

    We'll Wed and We'll Bed (Playford, 1706, p.104)

    Stepney Cakes and Ale, Found in Playford2: (Playford, 1706, p.144)

    Cakes and Ale

    [Henry Purcell]

    This catch by Henry Purcell was sung a cappella by Maddy Prior and June Tabor for their second Silly Sisters album, No More to the Dance. The track was also included in 1990 on the June Tabor anthology Aspects.

    Lyrics
    I gave her cakes and I gave her ale
    And I gave her sack and sherry
    I kissed her once and I kissed her twice
    And we were wond'rous merry

    I gave her beads and bracelets fine
    And I gave her gold down derry
    I thought she was afear'd till she stroak'd my beard
    And we were wond'rous merry

    Merry me hearts, merry me cocks, merry me sprites
    Merry, merry, merry, merry, merry me hey down derry
    I kissed her once and I kissed her twice
    And we were wond'rous merry

     

    2. The Bitter Withy top page
     

    The bitter withy / Our Saviour tarried out (FSJ Vol.II (No.8, 1906), p.205.

    The mermaid, from JFSS III/10 (1907), p. 47





    The Bitter Withy is an English folk song reflecting an unusual and apocryphal vernacular idea of Jesus Christ. The withy of the title is the Willow and song gives an explanation as to why the willow tree rots from the centre out, rather than the outside in. The song is given an update in a recent recording by the renowned British folk artist, John Tams on his acclaimed album 'The Reckoning' (2005; won 2006 the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for the 'Best Album') and is contained in 'The Definitive Collection' (2007) also.

    The Bitter Withy

    As it fell out on a holy day,
    The drops of rain did fall, did fall,
    Our Saviour asked leave of His mother, Mary,
    If He might go play at ball.
    “To play at ball, my own dear Son,
    It’s time you was going or gone, or gone,
    But be sure let me hear no complaint of you,
    At night when you do come home.”
    It was upling scorn and downling scorn!
    Oh, there He met three jolly jerdins
    Oh, there He asked the three jolly jerkins
    If they would go play at ball.
    “Oh, we are lords’ and ladies’ sons,
    Born in bower or in hall, in hall.
    And you are but some poor maid's child
    Born in an ox's stall.”
    “Oh, if you are lords’ and ladies’ sons,
    Born in bower or in hall, in hall.
    Then at the very last I’ll make it appear
    That I am above you all.”
    Our Saviour built a bridge with the beams of the sun,
    And over He gone, He gone He;
    And after followed the three jolly jerdins,
    And drownded they were all three.
    It was up the hill and down the hill!
    The mothers of them did whoop and call,
    Crying out: “Mary mild, call home your child,
    For ours are drownded all!”
    Mary mild, Mary mild called home her Child,
    And laid our Saviour across her knee,
    And with a whole handful of bitter withy
    She gave Him slashes three.
    Then He says to His Mother: “Oh, the withy! Oh, the withy!
    The bitter withy that causes me to smart, to smart,
    Oh, the withy, it shall be the very first tree
    That perishes at the heart!”

    3. Hankin Booby  top page

    notes:
    Tunes from Playford, 1651:

    'Mage on a cree', p. 20



    'Hankin booby' (or 'Half hannikin'), p. 43

     

    George Wray sang Lord Melbourne on Unto Brigg Fair, from a cylinder recorded in 1908 by Percy Grainger. The LP sleeve notes commented:

    It is a great pity that the quality of the cylinders of this stirring ballad do not permit the inclusion of more of this song or more particularly of this fine singer. The manner in which he switches from a terraced style, stark and strident, to a gently fluid and ornamented style for the last verse is potent evidence of his creative ability and marks strongly his insistence on the narrative rather than Joseph Taylor's predominate concern with the tune. Other versions are found in: BTSC, BF, SEF and FSJ 4 p. 156, 20 p. 266 and importantly Grainger's transcription in FSJ 12. Also on many broadsides, eg. C, F, Bl, Dl, P, Ph, Fo, W, HP, HW, WL, WB - all in the Madden Collection at the University Library, Cambridge.

    4. Hunt the Squirrel  top page

    Hunt the squirrel, from CDB, set 11



    The tuneful nightingale, from Playford, 1706, p. 303.

    5. Lord Melbourne  top page

    Lord Melbourne (Duke Of Marlborough)
    First Line: I am an Englishman born by birth
    Performer: Wray, George
    Date: 28 Jul 1906
    Place: England : Lincolnshire : Brigg
    Collector: Grainger, Percy


    Epping Forest (CDB, set 10)

    Lord Melbourne, from JFSS III/12 (1908), p. 200
    www.vwml.org.uk/record/PG/5/47

    Lord Melbourne

    In Lincolnshire Posy this is categorized as "'Lord Melbourne' (War Song)," where it is given a fanfare-like, almost arhythmic treatment. The song is better known as Lord Marlborough, to whom it properly refers. John Churchill (1650-1722), 1st Duke of Marlborough, soldier and statesman, is perhaps best known for his "glorious victories" against the French at Blenheim and Ramillies. He was a meticulous planner, and was also known for his consideration of the welfare of his soldiers, which is perhaps why he became so popular in balladry. He was also an ancestor of Winston Churchill, whose elder brother Charles became the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1892.

     

    I am an Englishman to my birth, Lord Melbourne is my name;
    In Devonshire I first drew breath, that place of noble fame.
    I was beloved by all my men, by kings and princes likewise.
    I never failed in anything, but won great victories.

    Then good Queen Anne sent us on board, to Flanders we did go,
    We left the banks of Newfoundland to face our daring foe.
    We climbed those lofty hills straightway, with broken guns, shields likewise,
    And all those famous towns we took, to all the world's surprise.

    King Charles the Second we did reserve, to face our foemen French,
    And to the battle of Ramillies we boldly did advance.
    The sun was down, the earth did shake, and I so loud did cry,
    "Fight on, my lads, for old England's sake, we'll gain the field, or die."

    And now this glorious victory's won, so boldly keep the field,
    When prisoners in great numbers took, which forced our foe to yield.
    That very day my horse was shot all by a cannonball,
    As soon as I got up again, my aide-de-camp, he did fall.

    Now on a bed of sickness lie, I am resigned to die,
    You generals all and champions bold, stand true as well as I.
    Stand to your men, take them on board, and fight with courage bold,
    I've led my men through smoke and fire, but now to death must yield.

    www.lincolnshireposy.weebly.com/performance-practices-by-movement.html

    13. Lord Melbourne: A Folk song variant

    LINCOLNSHIRE POSY
    Lisbon (Dublin Bay)
    Horkstow Grange
    Rufford Park Poachers
    The Brisk Young Sailor
    Lord Melbourne
    The Lost Lady Found[See also separate entry for choral setting, below. (Ed.)]

    Sometimes a song just goes wrong, much of its original meaning and detail lost and misconstrued by singers' memory. "Lord Melbourne" is a case in point. Percy Grainger collected the song from George Wray of Barton upon Humber on 28 July 1906 and made a phonograph recording in May 1908.

    Somewhere along the line, someone has been let down by a poor grasp of post Restoration Stuart history or perhaps Wray was just struggling with his aging memory.

    The song is actually about Lord Marlborough. However, George Wray's variant refers to Lord Melbourne, most likely the Victorian Prime Minister. Perhaps he may have recollected the name from his childhood.

    The variant sung by Wray has a string of misinterpretations including "aide de campe" as "head in camp", "Battle of Ramillies" as "Battle of Elements" and "our foes in France" as "all foaming French"

    Despite realising this song to be Lord Marlborough, Grainger maintained the name Lord Melbourne for his arrangement in "Lincolnshire Posy". Perhaps he was amused by the name Melbourne, given that his home town was Melbourne, Australia.

     

     

    Cecil James Sharp (22 November 1859 – 23 June 1924) was the founding father of the folk-song revival in England in the early 20th century.

    Sharp felt that English music had become over-dominated by German influences, and wanted to revive melodies with native roots. He listened to hundreds of village folk-singers, and arranged their songs for piano and choir. He promoted Morris dancing, which had almost died out, though he often had to tone-down the lyrics for public performance and instruction in schools. In 1911 he founded the English Folk Dance Society.

    The new celebration of folk-music attracted political controversy, with some commentators claiming that it artificially romanticised village life, while others pointed out that the working class had actively embraced Music Hall as the expression of popular song.

    Voetnoten. top page

    1.

    2.

    Het gedicht spreekt in een bijbelse metafoor: we moeten in de derde regel bij 'the birth of consciousness' meteen denken aan de zondeval.

    Title: Before Life And After   top page
    Author: Thomas Hardy [More Titles by Hardy]


    A time there was--as one may guess
    And as, indeed, earth's testimonies tell -
    Before the birth of consciousness,
    When all went well.

    None suffered sickness, love, or loss,
    None knew regret, starved hope, or heart-burnings;
    None cared whatever crash or cross
    Brought wrack to things.

    If something ceased, no tongue bewailed,
    If something winced and waned, no heart was wrung;
    If brightness dimmed, and dark prevailed,
    No sense was stung.

    But the disease of feeling germed,
    And primal rightness took the tinct of wrong;
    Ere nescience shall be reaffirmed
    How long, how long?
     

    The poet muses about the glory and innocence of the time before mankind was corrupted and asks how long it will be before the return to such a state.

    3. Winter Words, Op. 52, is a song cycle for tenor and piano by Benjamin Britten. Written in 1953, it sets eight poems by Thomas Hardy. Winter Words is one of Britten's few compositions from the period after the premiere of his opera Gloriana; its poems are from Hardy's last published collection, having the same title. The cycle was premiered at the Leeds Festival in October 1953, with Peter Pears singing and Britten at the piano. It was dedicated to John and Myfanwy Piper. (Wikipedia)
    "At Day-Close in November"
    "Midnight on the Great Western" (or, "The Journeying Boy")
    "Wagtail and Baby (A Satire)"
    "The Little Old Table"
    "The Choirmaster's Burial" (or, "The Tenor Man's Story")
    "Proud Songsters (Thrushes, Finches and Nightingales)"
    "At the Railway Station, Upway" (or, "The Convict and Boy with the Violin")
    "Before Life and After"

    4. top page

    De Australische componist Percy Grainger (1882-1961) wordt vooal in de blaasorkesten-wereld nog veel gespeeld. Hij was ook een toegewijd verzamelaar van volksmuziek. Zijn Lincolnshire Posy (1937) voor concert band wordt wel beschouwd als zijn meesterwerk. Het zesdelige stuk is geheel gebaseerd op volksliederen die hij in Lincolnshire, England, had verzameld in 1905–1906. Het vijfde deel van Lincolnshire Posy is Lord Melbourne.

    "Mr. George Wray (the singer of Lord Melbourne) had a worldlier, tougher and more prosperously-coloured personality. He, too, was born at Barrow-on-Humber, and was eighty years old when he sang to me in 1906. From the age of eight to seventeen he worked in a brick yard, after which he went to sea as cook and steward, learning some of his songs aboard ship. After that he again worked at a brick yard, for forty years; and, later on again, he sold coals, taking them to Barton, Barrow, Goxhill, etc ., in his own ship, and also carrying them round on his back (in `scootles'), as much as twenty tons a day. This he did to the age of seventy-three, and then he 'give over'. In his old age he enjoyed independence, and said" 'And thaay saay (they say) a poor mahn 'ahsn't a chahnce!' He used to be a great dancer. (Yet, in spite of this association with strict rhythm, his singing was more irregular in rhythm than any I ever heard.) He took a prize--a fine silver pencil--for dancing, at Barton, at t he age of fifty-four, performing to the accompaniment of a fiddle, which he considered 'better than anything to dance to'. His brother was a 'left-handed' fiddler (bowing with his left hand, fingering with his right). Mr. Wray held that folksinging had be en destroyed by the habit of singing in church and chapel choirs, and used to wax hot on this subject, and on the evils resultant upon singing to the accompaniment of the piano. He was convinced that most folks could keep their vigour as late in life as he had, if they did not overfeed.

    "He lived alone, surrounded by evil-smelling cats. I asked him if he often went to town, and he answered: 'It's too temtatious for a mahn of my age!' A consciousness of snug, self-earned success underlay the jaunty contentment and skittishness of his renderings. His art shared the restless energy of his life. Some of his versions of tunes were fairly commonplace (not Lord Melbourne, however!), yet he never failed to invest them with a unique quaintness--by means of swift touches of swagger, heaps of added 'nonsense syllables', queer hollow vowel-sounds (doubtless due to his lack of teeth) and a jovial, jogging stick-to-it-iveness in performance. He had an amazing memory for the texts of his songs. Lord Melbourne (actually about the Du ke of Marlborough) is a genuine war-song--a thing rare in English folksong.

    5.

    CDB: The country dance book, ed. Cecil Sharp (Novello, 1909-22)
    JFSS: Journal of the folk song society
    Playford, 1651: The English dancing master (1651)
    Playford, 1706: The dancing master, 13th ed. (1706)
    www.brittenproject.org/works/BTC1163