The Seven Folksong Ballads owe their existence to a casual, a verbal promise to “write something” for a charity concert. I thought no more of it, until I saw a bill advertising the forthcoming concert, with my aim amongst the composers! I had always wanted to set some folksongs for string quartet and voice, and here was my opportunity. In fact, except for no.1 and the lament at the end of no.4, all the music is newly composed. The soprano is Christine Page, once my colleague and always a very good friend. The string quartet is the Cleyndert Quartet led by Brian Howells. I am very grateful to these wonderful musicians for playing my work:
The Old Man From Lee
The Old Man from Lee - this freely arranged melody was originally sung by an unnamed singer from Coggeshall (Essex) in this version. The theme is a very common one in folklore, and widespread…..
I Wish, I Wish
I Wish, I Wish - this is a set song about betrayal of love; the singer has been loved and left for a younger woman. There is the common “apron-low”, “apron-high” motif - the maid’s slim belly and the mother-to-be’s rounded form. The accompaniment is upper strings only.
The Loyal Lover
The Loyal Lover - this is a song of love and devotion for a lover who is away at sea. While the cello’s ostinato represents some (imaginary) mundane task being undertaken, the rich imagery of the poem is reflected in the first violin’s music.
Bonnie George Campbell
Bonnie George Campbell rides out on his mount, but only his “guid horse” comes home. The Scottish dialect is mostly understandable, but here are some translations for some of the harder phrases: “out came his mother dear greeting fu’ sair” (crying sorely); “And out cam his bonnie bride riving her hair” (tearing her hair); ” But toom (empty) cam his saddle to see”. At the end I have set a magnificent Scottish lament - Lady MacRobert’s Lament, sometimes known as The Flight of the Eaglets.
Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow
Rare Willie Drowned into Yarrow - verses alternate between a suspension of belief, and hard realisation of Rare Willie’s tragic fate.
The Unquiet Grave
The Unquiet Grave is a ghost story in verse/song. I have changed the words slightly to have the woman sitting on her lover's grave, rather than vice versa. She sits there for so long – twelve months and a day - that “the dead began to speak”…..
The Miller's Daughter
The Miller's Daughter is a saucy tale was a quite unexpected conclusion!