Popular Music Of The Olden Time Vol 1

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222                                   ENGLISH SONG AND BALLAD MUSIC
harmony to enable them to set a song correctly to music, however agile their fingers may be. Secondly—
" It is too heavy for so light a tune, Heavy? belike it hath some burden then 1"
The burden of a song, in the old acceptation of the word, was the base, foot, or under-song. It was sung throughout, and not merely at the end of the verse. Burden is derived from bourdoun, a drone base (French, bourdon.) " This Sompnour bare to him a stiff burdoun, Was never trompe of half so gret a soun."—Chaucer. We find as early as 1250, that Somer is icwmen in was sung with a foot, or burden, in two parts throughout (" Sing cuckoo, sing cuckoo") ; and in' the preceding century Giraldus had noticed the peculiarity of the English in singing under-parts to their songs.
That burden still bore the sense of an under-part or base, and not merely of a ditty,a see A Quest of Inquirie, &c, 4to., 1595, where it is compared to the music of a tabor:—" Good people, beware of wooers' promises, they are like the musique of a tabor and pipe: the pipe says golde, giftes, and many gay things; but perform­ance is moralized in the tabor, which bears the burden of' I doubt it, I doubt it.'— {British Bibliographer, vol. i.) In Fletcher's Humorous Lieutenant, act v., sc. 2, "H'as made a thousand rhymes, sir, and plays the burden to 'em on a Jew's-trump" (Jeugd-tromp, the Dutch for a child's horn). So in Much Ado about Nothing, in the scene between Hero, Beatrice, and Margaret, the last says, " Clap us into Light d'Love, that goes without a burden " [there being no man or men on the stage to sing one]. "Do you sing it and I'll dance it." Light o'Love was therefore strictly a ballet, to be sung and danced.
In the interlude of The Four Elements, about 1510, Ignorance says— " But if thon wilt have a song that is good, I have one of Eobin Hood, The best that ever was made.. Humanity. Then i' fellowship, let us hear it.
Ign. But there is a bordon, thou must bear it, Or else it mill not be. Hum. Then begin and care not to . . . Dorone, dorone, downe, &c. Ign. Robin Hood in Barnsdale stood," &c.
Here Humanity starts with the burden, giving the key for the other to sing in. So in old manuscripts, the burden is generally found at the head of the song, and not at the end of the first verse.
Many of these burdens were short proverbial expressions, such as— " 'Tis merry in hall when beards wag all; " which is mentioned as the " under-song or holding " of one in The Serving-man's Comfortj 1598, and the line quoted by Adam Davy, in his Life of Alexander, as early as about 1312. Peele, in his Edward I., speaks of it as " the old
» " Ditties, they ale the endi of old ballads."— Rowley's A Match ai Midnight, act iii., so. 1.'

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III