Pamela Reinagel | Lady Elsbet (Child Ballad #247)

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Folk: Traditional Folk Folk: Scottish Traditional Moods: Type: Vocal
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Lady Elsbet (Child Ballad #247)

by Pamela Reinagel

"striking, spare a cappella arrangements of folk classics"
Genre: Folk: Traditional Folk
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Lady Elsbet (Child Ballad #247)
4:17 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
A bent or brent brow means a high, smooth, unwrinkled forehead; the line "How bent your brow is" can be translated roughly "how beautiful you are".

How I Come By the Song
I learned this song in person from an anonymous singer in Northern Michigan. She said that she got the song from a book. Over time I came to realize that this was a particularly obscure find. I made only one significant modification from the version she taught me: in her version Lord Justice reveals that the boy is his nephew, which I felt allowed for too many interpretations. I liked the message that honesty and justice prevail, and true love finds happiness regardless of wealth. But what then is the relevance of being the judge’s nephew? Was the boy exonerated only out of nepotism? Or is the ending happy only because it’s implied that the boy has money after all? Or is it that the judge trusts the boy’s word because he knows the boy’s reputation, or that the boy is from a good family? In any case, I felt this ambiguity weakened the story, so I replaced the final couplet with a curse upon the mother instead.

More About the Song
This turns out to be a Child ballad, and goes back at least to 1783. I don’t think it was ever collected in the field as an audio recording, so I infer that it was extinct in oral tradition by the dawn of the 20th C. A few versions were collected as texts or transcribed tunes by earlier collectors, however -- enough to suggest that it once had a life in oral tradition. The words I learned appear to have been based on F.J.Child’s one collected text, translated from old Scots dialect to something closer to a present-day American Midwestern dialect. I’m told that the tune roughly matches one from Bronson. In the text transcribed by Child, the Lord Justice is not only an uncle, but goes on to offer the couple land and horses, supporting the “he’s rich after all, so they lived happily ever after” interpretation, historically.

Cover art credit: Photograph of Castle Stalcaire licensed from (c) Thomas Lukassek through 123RF.COM



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