oldest tune you know

oldest tune you know

I was thinking about tunes. Some I know are very recent compositions, some have been in the tradition for a long time. Made me wonder what is the oldest tune that I know, and how would you find out ?

What do you think your oldest tunes are?

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Hi there.. well i have plenty, but suppose one sticks in my head.. Bodach Beag Abriachan.. the little old men from Abriachan..
Im actually from that village, and learned the tune from my teacher Donald Riddell.. its from about the 15th century, Kintail.. but at the moment dont have any further info to hand.. Captain Simon Frasers Knockie collection has so many ancient tunes… worth a look. Gregor B

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Well, I play piobaireachd, so the oldest will undoubtedly be one of them. Anything older than 18 century would be hard to date unless it is (more or less literally) written in stone, but some old tunes were written as commemorative pieces which can be dated quite accurately.

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now there’s tradition gregor! thanks. :o)

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The Skolion of Seikilos.

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You first…

One could read this as the tune we’ve known the longest, our first ever melody. at least that we can remember… With a lot of the tunes we know there’s no dating them, and some are, in a sense, improvisations, evolutiions and mutations on things far older…

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I think I read somewhere that Sailing Into Walpole’s Marsh is very old, as is that Star Of The County Down tune that Vaughan-Williams used in his Dives And Lazarus variants. I’m no scholar so don’t shoot… :-(

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yea I just meant chronologically … and even hear say about how old tunes might be will do…just idly wondering really .

we know how old ocarolan’s are approx…. for example…

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I think some of the trowie tunes are older than mankind.

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Probably Personent Hodie which was first published in 1582

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I’d like to think that the tunes I play are of the moment. And then they’re gone.

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I heard somewhere that Rolling In The Ryegrass is very old. As is Geese In The Bog. But I’m no scholar.

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when ever I hear that tune I just go to the bar. Nobody likes a feckin smart arse.

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I play a really cool guitar arrangement of that one.

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cool? you mean smart arse.

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You’ve actually heard that tune, Michael? There must be some nimble-fingered players in your session!

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it was a fecking joke.

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With a bit of satire thrown in.

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Shame there wasn’t a part in there for a cowbell, sort of rules me out.
However to answer the question…the oldest tune I can play is that old march in 6/8 - Lilliburlero

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‘Like a dirigible’ I love it!

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Tunes tend not to remain the same for long, unless they’re written down. I have no doubt that a lot of the tunes we play go back a very long way, but a long process of evolution means that it might be hard to hear the connection between what was played 700 years ago and what is played today. Even newly composed traditional tunes contain ‘old music’ - that’s what makes them sound traditional. Is there really any way of knowing how old a tune is, beyond the earliest date at which it was written down?

It is probably a fair assumption to make that the more different versions of a tune there are - or different tunes within a ‘family -’ the longer it has been around. One example’s I could cite is
The Peacock’s Feather/Napoleon Crossing the Alps/Parting Glass family
https://thesession.org/tunes/1464
https://thesession.org/tunes/3056
https://thesession.org/tunes/663
https://thesession.org/tunes/9234
https://thesession.org/tunes/4320
,,,the list could doubtless be further added to.

Unfortunately, I’m not up on sean nós singing or slow airs, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t one old air that underlies all of these. The song Baile Mhúirne, sung by Iarla Ó Lionáird on Music at Matt Molloy’s, bears a definite resemblance in the first part.

I am also of the view that some tunes to nursery rhymes and playground rhymes are very old indeed. The Twinkle Twinkle/Baa Baa Black Sheep tune, in addition to being the basis of numerous different children’s songs, comes up in different variants, in various modes, as a dance tune and song air in many parts of Europe. A minor version of it has become the Israeli national anthem.

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No idea…….

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The oldest tune of certain date that I know is "La Mourisque", composed by Tielman Susato. It was written in 1551.

Greensleeves was supposedly written by Henry VIII, and if so, it would pre-date 1547, the year of his death.

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"Greensleeves was supposedly written by Henry VIII, and if so, it would pre-date 1547, the year of his death."

I have also heard it suggested that he composed the words, but used a pre-existing tune - which would make it even older.

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I really like some of Susato’s tunes, Mix, but I don’t play any of them. Perhaps I should start.

(To be pedantic, La Mourisque and others were in a collection published in 1551, so could well have been written some years before.)

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Greensleeves was the big hit of 1580, reprinted several times within a few months. It was promoted then as being a new song. Henry VIII had nothing to do with it.

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… and The Irish Washerwoman is supposedly 16c, though Jack will doubtless argue with that. ;-)

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That group that CreadurMawnOrganig listed are fascinating. Does everyone hear them all as having a shared ancestor ?

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The only reason I’ve seen given for it being that old is a supposed relationship with Sedauny/Dargason. Even if such a relationship exists (I don’t see it), the tunes are not the same - for a start the Dargason has only one part and the Irish Washerwoman has two.

It’s a late 18th century tune.

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"That group that CreadurMawnOrganig listed are fascinating. Does everyone hear them all as having a shared ancestor ?"

I don’t know - maybe it’s just me. I’ve been shouted down before on a similar matter.

Washerwoman

"Even if such a relationship exists (I don’t see it), the tunes are not the same - for a start the Dargason has only one part and the Irish Washerwoman has two."

If this is the tune you’re referring to,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9msdVLALk4 then the relationship to the Irish Washerwoman is obvious to me. This version of it has two parts, actually, 2 bars each, without repeats - albeit the two parts are very similar to one another. I agree that they are not the same tune, though.

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…and I would say that The Mason’s Apron is also related
…and Brochan Lomh,

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The Skolion of Seilkilos is in the tune base here — tune 5696.

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How old is the tune currently called "The Abbots Bromley Horndance Tune?" I’m aware both that it apparently isn’t the original tune and that it isn’t always used today, but still.

As to Skolion of Seikilos the original question, I think, implied tunes that you play. Jack probably plays that, but I wonder about the rest of you. And BTW, transcription of that early stuff is largely guess work despite how nice it looks.

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"How old is the tune currently called "The Abbots Bromley Horndance Tune?""

This website
http://www.btinternet.com/~radical/thefolkmag/abromley.htm lists the various tunes that are or have been used for the dance. The one to which I assume you are referring (given here as Robinson’s Tune) is dated 1857 - so, not very old. This date is confirmed in a discussion on mudcat.org; also, according to one of the commmetors in this discussion, this tune was never actually used for the dance.

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I think it is easy to see how song tunes could survive but change by being used with different sets of words. Of CreadurMawnOrganig’s set I found The Parting Glass and Star of County Down in the category of "clear when pointed out but would probably never have noticed". Are they ‘the same tune’ though ?

cboody - I would be surprised if most groups of people playing English tunes could not very quickly cobble together a group playing "Sumer is a cumin in" as a round. It is still very much in circulation (though maybe kept so by schools because it is famously old as well as being fun).

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The English melodeon player Tony Hall has recorded a brooding rendition of the Abbot’s Bromley Horn Dance on his album "One Man Hand". An audio clip of this track can (or could) be accessed from the following web page:

http://www.wildgoose.co.uk/displayAlbum.asp?PRODUCT_ID=154

It’s well worth a listen. Hall’s take on slower tunes can be quite hackle-raising.

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The oldest tune I know is actually plainsong - the "O Holy Ghost Our Souls Inspire", allegedly written by St Ambrose before he became Pope (written evidence exists as to its antiquity, but not to its authorship) and was still at Milan, in charge of the music there.

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The Christmas hymn "Of The Father’s Love Begotten", attributed to Prudentius (presumably a late Roman), has an impressive tune which I assume is very old - though I don’t know.

The English words current for this back in the Sixties when I first heard it had a quality that absolutely fitted the tune - that of something tremendously solidly built, yet at the same time expressing something of haunting voids and mysteries. A bit like being on a large, safe (one hopes) ship, but conscious of the wild black night all around in mid-ocean. Well, that’s my take on it.

Well-meaning eager beavers have of course re-written the words one now encounters in church song-books, reducing them to verbal slurry.

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@nicholas The tune is 10th Century (ish), originally plainsong. And yes, a beautiful tune it is.

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@David50

According to a wonderful couple of now gone Englishmen, Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, "Sumer is Icumen In had got itself on the banned list. People were singing the Cu-cu’s rather too lewdly." I thought it was still there :)

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:-)