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Saint Paul SundayFeatured Artist

The King's Noyse

April 2, 2000 Program

At the Paris Court of Charles IX (1570-90)
Anonymous: Mon Dieu la belle Entrée
Claude LeJune: Allons, allons gay
Claude LeJune: Je suis desheritée
Pierre Phalèse: Les Bouffons
Pierre Phalèse: Almade/Saltarello
Pierre Phalèse: Schiarazula Marazula
Anonymous: Ton amour ma maistresse
Phalèse: Pavane and galliard "La Battaille"
Anonymous: Laissez la verte couleur

The 17th c English ballad
Anonymous: The happy meeting
Anonymous: Boatman
Anonymous: Grimstock
Anonymous: Emperor of the Moon
Anonymous: Barbara Allen's cruelty
Anonymous: Strawberries and cream
Anonymous: Half hanniken
Anonymous: Nottingham ale to the tune of "Lilli Burlero"

  The King's Noyse

The King's Noyse
David Douglass, Director and violin
Robert Mealy, violin
Scott Metcalfe, viola
Margriet Tindemans, viola
Emily Walhout, bass violin
Paul O'Dette, lute
Ellen Hargis, soprano

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The English Ballad - Barbara Allen's cruelty
Ballad singing, a tradition dating back to the time of the troubadours and still a part of folk music today, was a very popular form of entertainment in 17th-century England. Just one anthology from the end of the century, Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy, contains more than one thousand ballads. The ballad tunes were so well-known that, in most cases, the ballad texts were published alone. One reason that the tunes were so familiar was that professional dance bands, such as violin bands, used them for improvising dance and division music. Professional musicians relied on that public familiarity to provide music that would be at once both immediately recognizable and yet brand new. This is still a part of professional music-making: jazz and pop groups achieve the same effect when they "cover" a standard tune.

Equal parts fragile melancholy and foot stomping jollity, English melodies have broad appeal. The tune for Barbara Allen's cruelty is probably one of the most recognizable melodies on this program. Since the most famous source for the ballad and the earliest source for the ballad tune is the 1745 edition of Bishop Percy's Relics of Ancient Poetry, it has been commonly thought of as an 18th-century ballad. The thick, complicated and often very beautiful harmonizations of Barbara Allen that are familiar to us in this country make it even more difficult to hear the tune as a late Renaissance song. But the 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys recounts hearing the "Scotch song of Barbara Allen" sung by his favorite actress, Mrs. Knipp, and by Pepys' time it had probably already been a popular favorite for many years. We are using a 17th-century source for the text, and I have attempted to give this traditional standard a distinctly 17th-century musical interpretation through the harmonization and style of accompaniment.

A perpetual icon in popular culture since the 17th century, Barbara Allen found one of its most famous modern uses in the 1951 cinematic adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in which the opening verse is sung at the Christmas Day dinner at the home of Scrooge's nephew. The film's makers may have intended to draw a connection between Barbara Allen's insensitivity and that of the unreformed Scrooge, who like Barbara Allen is slow in making his way to the death bed of his "best friend," and relied on the movie audience to remember the meaning of the ballad. It is amazing to think that a popular song could remain in the public's collective consciousness for 350 years, but no one can doubt the enduring nature of the ballad repertory which echoes, by design, life's experiences.

Excerpted from program notes by David Douglass
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