Oldest tunes

Oldest tunes

Part of why I love trad is because I’m a history nerd. I get such a buzz playing a tune knowing that it’s at least 200 years old. While looking for alternate settings of Lilting Banshee I came across a much simpler, but older setting of the tune (check out the comments of that tune’s page if you’re interested), supposedly from the first half of the 1800’s! It’s notably simpler, probably due to commoners having much less time on their hands back then, but there’s a certain allure to it.

Please list the oldest tunes you know, doesn’t matter if they’re Irish or Scottish, or English for that matter. From what I understand music among these isles back then was less defined (1700s), and much more similar to one another. Not that it’s wholly different from one another these days but there is a clear distinction! Well, between Irish/Scottish and English at least.

Anywho, old tunes you know! From when and any information on the tune (who it was written for, by whom, why, etc, whatever!) is also greatly appreciated !

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The Wind That Shakes The Barley is a descendant of Hey Tutti Taiti, the tune Burns used for Scot’s Wha Hae. He wrote of a tradition that it was played at Bannockburn, which would mean it stretches back to 1300 or so.

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O’Carolan…?

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Who can often say? You’re at the mercy of the early transcribers and publishers etc. But the fact that a melody doesn’t appear in their collections doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more recent.

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And Hey Tutti Taiti is descended from Tutti-Frutti, isn’t it?

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I’ve been spending time working with some of the music from this collection.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Dixon_manuscript
It’s probably not the oldest music I know but it is certainly the oldest written pipe music in existence. The pibroch tradition which was a vocal one for the act of transmission is certainly older but there is also little doubt that much of the manuscript as it currently exists is far more recent than any of the original music upon which it might be said to be based.
The Dixon stuff though is really different from pretty much anything else I’ve ever tried to play, it’s a real handful and very different to 19th century folk music.

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Robert Bremner, A Collection of Scots Reels or Country Dances of 1762, http://www.musicaneo.com/search.html?q=robert+bremner represents a good portion of repertoire that would go on to be reshaped under others’ fingers and hands. Dixon is indeed also a good early source that contains early settings of bagpipe music. In terms of age, the piece “Deirdre’s Lament” is said to be one of the oldest pieces of Irish music known that is still played, dating from the medieval period at least and likely older, perhaps as old as the Irish story of Deirdre itself.

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The thing that amazes me is how much old tunes can change, especially if they get used as song tunes. Within the Scottish tunes, we have a whole load of strathspeys (which were in themselves a new art form in the 18th century!) Classic examples are "Green Grow the Rashes O" and "Miss Admiral Gordon’s Strathspey" which both started out as pretty rumbustious strathspeys, before having just about every strathspey snap ironed out of them ,to become - not unattractively, but certainly differently as the songs you now know as "Green Grow the Rashes-O" and "O’ A’ the Airts" or "Scarborough Settlers’ Lament".

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The Wild Geese has been in print for 300 years; it could be 100 years older than that. It commemorates The Flight of the Earls, following a few years after the Battle of Kinsale in 1601.

https://thesession.org/tunes/13730

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Playfords books were published every year from 1651 and there are loads of common tunes in there!

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"And Hey Tutti Taiti is descended from Tutti-Frutti, isn’t it?"

Yes! I believe it was paired with Rockin’ Robin, back in the 1400’s.

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Unless Brian Boru’s March really was played in the time of Brian Boru, I reckon John Playford’s tunes are the oldest ones I know. They are all dance tunes which Playford collected from the English countryside and published in several volumes in the mid-17th century.

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Oops—so sorry, Andy Hornby, I missed your post.

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How’s about

Horses Brandle
La Morrisque
etc

From Orchésographie (Arbeau, Thoinot) 1589

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@Bluestocking. "which Playford collected from the English countryside". Maybe not.

See http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/8262/ " Evidence is presented to suggest that the earliest known publication of English country dances, Playford’s Dancing Master in 1651, was not, as is generally thought, a collection of village customs collected from the field, but an “aide memoire” for professional dancing masters".

A scholarly type such as yourself might like to dip into the full text.

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Many thanks, David! I’ll certainly look into that.

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In the context of this discussion - re: oldest tunes - I’m not sure what the significance is of the difference between "village customs", etc., and what might appear in an "aide memoire", etc. … ?

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Oh, sorry, just re-read the comment …..

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Good god, Mrs Celia Pendlebury Mphil, ( http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/8262/ ) needs a lesson in expression and, most likely, grammar in written English. I tried but couldn’t be bothered with that waffle. That’s the standard of research today? Makes you wonder what these people are getting for their £9k + ,tuition fees, a year doesn’t it! A rubber stamped degree in bull.

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I suggested it to ‘scholarly types’.

Any comments on the content (evidence, reasoning, conclusions etc) rather than the packaging?

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Steve T, did you really find it so impenetrable? I thought her premise was pretty solid, and clearly stated. But thanks for your reaction anyway—I probably wouldn’t have clicked on the link otherwise.

One thing I found intriguing is the picture she painted of Irish music (and folk music in general in the Atlantic isles) not being particularly ancient, and originating primarily among the leisure classes and diffusing out to the wider population—not the other way around.

I find the focus on "ancientness" is a little misdirected anyway. This Music is a living contemporary art, not an antiquarian exercise in embalming some imagined wisdom from the Celtic Twilight.

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I find the writing in the essay to be clear and straightforward. It does use some of the jargon pertinent to its field of study, but why wouldn’t it? It is an academic paper written for other academics.

And at a glance, it appears that considerable research was done - as to its quality, I can’t say, but I see nothing on the surface that would lead me to dismiss it out of hand.

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Blimey what an educated bunch we all are!

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Our apologies.

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Celia Pendlebury’s Thesis makes good reading. I shall have words with the folkies I know from Sheffield University to see if anything came of it.

Chris B.

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I notice, incidentally, that Ms. Pendlebury seems to have been under the impression that the "tunebooks" mentioned in the ‘TUNES" section of this site are actual published books, as opposed to member’s personal ‘collections’:

According to the website https://thesession.org/, “Hunt the Squirrel”, which I showed in chapter 1 to have
dated from 1709, has been included in thirty-one tune-books. “Sonny’s Mazurka”, possibly as
little as fifty years old, is in two hundred and fifty-six tune books. “The Clumsy Lover”, a
modern composition as described, has been added to three hundred and forty-two tune-books
and “Calliope House”, another modern composition, has been included in one thousand, one
hundred and forty-six tune-books.63 (These numbers increase every time the website is
checked; last checked 15th April 2013). As these examples suggest, I observed that there is
no correlation between the ages of tunes and the number of appearances they make in
print. p. 48

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I’m also interested in the venerable old tunes from the pre-Famine era that are still played, and some more examples are:

Miss Johnston’s (Johnson’s) reel - from a c.1815 violin tutor
Keel Row - a Tyneside song melody published in 1770
The Cuckoo’s Nest hornpipe - various versions in MSS and morris dancing traditions
Peter Street (Timour the Tartar) - published by P. Alday in Dublin, c. 1815

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Rust Gully (several other common names) dates from an Italian tune published in the 15th century
Greensleeves was around during the reign of Henry VIII so the first half of the 16th century.

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I recall being told that the tune/song Cead Mile Failte was one of our oldest known tunes.