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A ballad is a form of verse, often a narrative set to music. Ballads were particularly characteristic of British and Irish popular poetry and song from the later medieval period until the 19th century and used extensively across Europe and later the Americas, Australia, and North Africa] Many ballads were written and sold as single sheet broadsides. The form was often used by poets and composers from the 18th century onwards to produce lyrical ballads. In the later 19th century the word took on the meaning of a slow form of popular love song, and the term is now often used as synonymous with any love song, particularly the pop or rock power ballad.
The ballad probably derives its name from medieval French dance songs or "ballares" (from which we also get ballet), as did the alternative rival form that became the French Ballade. In theme and function they may originate from Scandinavian and Germanic traditions of storytelling that can be seen in poems such as Beowulf. The earliest example we have of a recognisable ballad in form in England is ‘Judas’ in a 13th-century manuscript.
- Main article: Ballad stanza
Most, but not all, northern and west European ballads are written in ballad stanzas: quatrains (four-line stanzas) of alternating lines of iambic tetrameter (eight syllables) and iambic trimeter (six syllables), known as ballad meter. Usually, only the second and fourth line of a quatrain are rhymed (in the rhyme scheme A-B-C-B), which has been taken to indicate that, originally, ballads consisted of rhyming couplets (two-line stanzas) of lines of iambic heptameter – as in this stanza from ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Annet’:
The horse | fair Ann|et rode | upon |
He amb|led like | the wind,|
With sil|ver he | was shod | before,|
With burn|ing gold | behind.|
However, there is considerable variation on this pattern in almost every respect, including length, number of lines, and rhyme scheme, making the strict definition of a ballad extremely difficult. In southern and eastern Europe, and in countries that derive their tradition from them, ballad structure differs significantly (like Spanish romanceros, which are octosyllabic and use consonance rather than rhyme).
Most ballads are narrative in nature, with a self-contained story, often concise and relying on imagery, rather than description, which can be tragic, historical, romantic or comic. Another common feature of ballads is repetition, sometimes of fourth lines in succeeding stanzas, as a refrain, sometimes of third and fourth lines of a stanza and sometimes of entire stanzas.
Scholars of ballads are often divided into two camps, the ‘communalists’ who, following the line established by the German scholar Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) and the Brothers Grimm, argue that ballads arose by a combined communal effort and did not have a single author, and ‘individualists’, following the thinking of English collector Cecil Sharp, who assert that there was a single original author. The communalist position tends to lead to the view that more recent, particularly printed broadside ballads, where we may even know the author, are a debased form of the genre. The individualists position has tended to lead to the view that later changes in the words of ballads are corruptions of an original text. More recently scholars have pointed to the interchange of oral and written forms of the ballad.
ClassificationEditEuropean Ballads have been generally classified into three major groups: traditional, broadside and literary. In America a distinction is drawn between ballads that are versions of European (particularly British and Irish) songs, and 'native American ballads', developed without reference to earlier songs. A further development was the evolution of the blues ballad, which mixed the genre with Afro-American music. For the late 19th century the music publishing industry found a market for what are often termed sentimental ballads, and these are the origin of the modern use of the term ballad to mean a slow love song.
The traditional, classical or popular (meaning of the people) ballad has been seen as originating with the wandering minstrels of late medieval Europe. From the end of the 15th century we have printed ballads that suggest a rich tradition of popular music. We know from a reference in William Langland's Piers Plowman, that ballads about Robin Hood were being sung from at least the late 14th century and the oldest detailed material we have is Wynkyn de Worde's collection of Robin Hood ballads printed about 1495.
Early collections of ballads were made by Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) and in the Roxburghe Ballads collected by Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer (1661–1724). In the 18th century there were increasing numbers of such collections, including Thomas D'Urfey's Wit and Mirth: or, Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719–20) and Bishop Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). The last of these also contained some oral material and by the end of the 18th century this was becoming increasingly common, with collections including John Ritson's, The Bishopric Garland (1784), which paralleled the work of figures like Robert Burns and Walter Scott in Scotland.
Key work on the traditional ballad was undertaken in the late 19th century in Denmark by Svend Grundtvig and for England and Scotland by the Harvard professor Francis James Child. They attempted to record and classify all the known ballads and variants in their chosen regions. Unfortunately since Child died before writing a commentary on his work it is uncertain exactly how and why he differentiated the 305 ballads printed that would be published as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.
There have been many different and contradictory attempts to classify traditional ballads by theme, but commonly identified types are the religious, supernatural, tragic, love ballads, historic, legendary and humorous.
- Main article: Broadside (music)
Broadside ballads (also known as 'roadsheet’, ‘stall’, ‘vulgar’ or ‘come all ye’ ballads) were a product of the development of cheap print from the 16th century. They were generally printed on one side of a medium to large sheet of poor quality paper. This could also be cut in half lengthways to make ‘broadslips’, or folded to make chapbooks. They were produced in huge numbers, with over 400,000 being sold in England annually by the 1660s. Many were sold by travelling chapmen in city streets or at fairs. The subject matter varied from what has been defined as the traditional ballad, although many traditional ballads were printed as broadsides. Among the topics were love, religion, drinking-songs, legends, and early journalism, which included disasters, political events and signs, wonders and prodigies.
Literary or lyrical ballads grew out of an increasing interest in the ballad form among social elites and intellectuals, particularly in the Romantic movement from the later 18th century. Respected literary figures like Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott in Scotland both collected and wrote their own ballads, using the form to create an artistic product. Similarly in England William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge produced a collection of Lyrical Ballads in 1798, including Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. At the same time in Germany Goethe cooperated with Schiller on a series of ballads, some of which were later set to music by Schubert. Later important examples of the poetic form included Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Barrack Room Ballads’ (1892-6) and Oscar Wilde’s ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’ (1897).
- Main article: Ballad opera
The first and most successful was The Beggar's Opera of 1728, with a libretto by John Gay and music arranged by John Christopher Pepusch. Papusch and Gay were influenced by Parisian vaudeville and the burlesques and musical plays of Thomas D'Urfey (1653–1723), a number of whose collected ballads they used in their work. Gay produced further works in this style, including a sequel under the title Polly. Henry Fielding, Colley Cibber, Arne, Dibdin, Arnold, Shield, Jackson of Exeter, Hook and many others produced ballad operas that enjoyed great popularity.
Ballad opera was also attempted in America and Prussia. Later it moved into a more pastoral form, like Isaac Bickerstaffe's Love in a Village (1763) and Shield’s Rosina (1781), using more original music that imitated, rather than reproduced, existing ballads. Although the form declined in popularity towards the end of the 18th century its influence can be seen in light operas like that of Gilbert and Sullivan's early works like The Sorcerer.
In the 20th century, one of the most influential plays, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's (1928) The Threepenny Opera was a reworking of The Beggar's Opera, setting a similar story with the same characters, and containing much of the same satirical bite, but only using one tune from the original. The term ballad opera has also been used to describe musicals using folk music, such as The Martins and the Coys in 1944, and Peter Bellamy's The Transports in 1977. The satiric elements of ballad opera can be seen in some modern musicals such as Chicago and Cabaret.
Native American balladsEdit
Native American ballads are ballads that are native to North America (not to be confused with ballads performed by native Americans). Some 300 ballads sung in North America have been identified as having origins in British traditional or broadside ballads. Examples include ‘The Streets of Laredo’, which was found in Britain and Ireland as ‘The Unfortunate Rake’; however, a further 400 have been identified as originating in North America, including among the best known, ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett' and 'Jesse James'. They became an increasing area of interest for scholars in the 19th century and most were recorded or catalogued by George Malcolm Laws, although some have since been found to have British origins and additional songs have since been collected. They are usually considered closest in form to British broadside ballads and in terms of style are largely indistinguishable, however, they demonstrate a particular concern with occupations, journalistic style and often lack the ribaldry of British broadside ballads.
- Main article: Blues ballad
The blues ballad has been seen as a fusion of Anglo-American and Afro-American styles of music from the 19th century. Blues ballads tend to deal with active protagonists, often anti-heroes, resisting adversity and authority, but frequently lacking a strong narrative and emphasising character instead. They were often accompanied by banjo and guitar which followed the blues musical format. The most famous blues ballads include those about John Henry and Casey Jones.
- Main article: Bush ballad
The ballad was taken to Australia by early settlers from Britain and Ireland and gained particular foothold in the rural outback. The rhyming songs, poems and tales written in the form of ballads often relate to the itinerant and rebellious spirit of Australia in The Bush, and the authors and performers are often referred to as bush bards. The 19th century was the golden age of bush ballads. Several collectors have catalogued the songs including John Meredith whose recording in the 1950s became the basis of the collection in the National Library of Australia. The songs tell personal stories of life in the wide open country of Australia. Typical subjects include mining, raising and droving cattle, sheep shearing, wanderings, war stories, the 1891 Australian shearers' strike, class conflicts between the landless working class and the squatters (landowners), and outlaws such as Ned Kelly, as well as love interests and more modern fare such as trucking. The most famous bush ballad is "Waltzing Matilda", which has been called "the unofficial national anthem of Australia".
Now the most commonly understood meaning of the term ballad, sentimental ballads, sometimes called "tear-jerkers" or "drawing-room ballads" owing to their popularity with the middle classes, had their origins in the early ‘Tin Pan Alley’ music industry of the later 19th century. They were generally sentimental, narrative, strophic songs published separately or as part of an opera (descendants perhaps of broadside ballads, but with printed music, and usually newly composed. Such songs include "Little Rosewood Casket" (1870), "After the Ball" (1892) and "Danny Boy". By the Victorian era, ballad had come to mean any sentimental popular song, especially so-called "royalty ballads", which publishers would pay popular singers to perform in Britain and the United States in "ballad concerts." Some of Stephen Foster's songs exemplify this genre. By the 1920s, composers of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway used ballad to signify a slow, sentimental tune or love song, often written in a fairly standardized form (see below). Jazz musicians sometimes broaden the term still further to embrace all slow-tempo pieces.
Jazz, blues and traditional popEdit
As new genres of music, such as ragtime, blues and jazz, began to emerge in the early 20th century the popularity of the genre faded, but the association with sentimentality led to the term ballad being used for a slow love song from the 1950s onwards. Most pop standard and jazz ballads are built from a single, introductory verse; usually around 16 bars in length, and ending on the dominant; the chorus or refrain, usually it is 16 or 32 bars long, and in AABA form (though other forms such as ABAC are not uncommon). In AABA forms, the B section is usually referred to as the bridge; often a brief coda, sometimes based on material from the bridge, was added as in "Over the Rainbow". Other key traditional pop and jazz ballads include: "Body and Soul" by Johnny Green; "Misty" by Erroll Garner; "The Man I Love" by George Gershwin; "My Funny Valentine" by Rodgers and Hart, "God Bless the Child" by Billie Holiday, "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" by Cole Porter, the instrumental ballad "Naima" by John Coltrane, "In a Sentimental Mood" by Duke Ellington and "Always" by Irving Berlin.
Pop and rock balladsEdit
The most common use of the term ballad in modern pop music is for an emotional love song. When the word ballad appears in the title of a song, as for example in The Beatles's "The Ballad of John and Yoko" or Billy Joel's "The Ballad of Billy the Kid", the folk-music sense is generally implied. Ballad is also sometimes applied to strophic story-songs more generally, such as Don McLean's "American Pie".
Simon Frith identifies the origins of the power ballad in the emotional singing of soul artists, particularly Ray Charles and the adaptation of this style by figures such as Eric Burdon, Tom Jones and Joe Cocker to produce slow tempo songs often building to a loud and emotive chorus backed by drums, electric guitars and sometimes choirs. According to Charles Aaron, power ballads came into existence in the early 1970s, when rock stars attempted to convey profound messages to audiences. He argues that the power ballad broke into the mainstream of American consciousness in 1976 as FM radio gave a new lease of life to earlier songs like Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" (1971), Aerosmith's "Dream On" (1973), and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" (1974). Other notable examples include Nazareth's version of "Love Hurts" (1975), Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is", Scorpions "Still Loving You", (both 1984), Heart's "What About Love" (1985) and Whitesnake's "Is This Love" (1987).
See also Edit
- Border ballads
- Corrido — a form of ballad originating in northern Mexico and the U.S. southwest
- Francis James Child
- Graves, Alfred Perceval
- How to write a ballad
- List of the Child Ballads
- List of folk song collections
- List of Irish ballads
- List of rock ballads
- Murder ballad
- Roud Folk Song Index
- Song structure (popular music)
- Torch song
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 J. E. Housman, British Popular Ballads (1952, London: Ayer Publishing, 1969), p. 15.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 A. N. Bold, The Ballad (Routledge, 1979), p. 5.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 D. Head and I. Ousby, The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 66.
- ↑ T. A. Green, Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art (ABC-CLIO, 1997), p. 81.
- ↑ M. Hawkins-Dady, Reader's Guide to Literature in English (Taylor & Francis, 1996), p. 54.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 T. A. Green, Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art (ABC-CLIO, 1997), p. 353.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 B. Sweers, Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music (Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 45.
- ↑ T. A. Green, Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art (ABC-CLIO, 1997), p. 352.
- ↑ G. Newman and L. E. Brown, Britain in the Hanoverian Age, 1714-1837: An Encyclopedia (Taylor & Francis, 1997), pp. 39-40.
- ↑ B. Capp, ‘Popular literature’, in B. Reay, ed., Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England (Routledge, 1985), p. 199.
- ↑ M. Spufford, Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular Fiction and Its Readership in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 111-128.
- ↑ B. Capp, ‘Popular literature’, in B. Reay, ed., Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England (Routledge, 1985), p. 204.
- ↑ J. R. Williams, The Life of Goethe (Blackwell Publishing, 2001), pp. 106-8.
- ↑ S. Ledger, S. McCracken, Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siècle (Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 152.
- ↑ M. Lubbock, The Complete Book of Light Opera (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962) pp. 467-68.
- ↑ F. Kidson, The Beggar's Opera: Its Predecessors and Successors (Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 71.
- ↑ M. Lubbock, The Complete Book of Light Opera (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962), pp. 467-68.
- ↑ G. Wren, A Most Ingenious Paradox: The Art of Gilbert and Sullivan (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 41.
- ↑ K. Lawrence, Decolonizing Tradition: New Views of Twentieth-century "British" Literary Canons (University of Illinois Press, 1992), p. 30.
- ↑ A. J. Aby and P. Gruchow, The North Star State: A Minnesota History Reader, (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002), p. 461.
- ↑ L. Lehrman, Marc Blitzstein: A Bio-bibliography (Greenwood, 2005), p. 568.
- ↑ 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 22.6 22.7 N. Cohen, Folk Music: a Regional Exploration (Greenwood, 2005), pp. 14-29.
- ↑ 23.0 23.1 Kerry O'Brien December 10, 2003 7:30 Report, abc.net.au
- ↑ G. Smith, Singing Australian: A History of Folk and Country Music (Pluto Press Australia, 2005), p. 2.
- ↑ Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?", The National Library of Australia, retrieved 14 March 2008.
- ↑ Temperley (II,2).
- ↑ Witmer. See also Middleton (I,4,i).
- ↑ Randel 1986, p. 68.
- ↑ A. Forte, The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950 (Princeton University Press, 1995).
- ↑ "POP VIEW; The Male Rock Anthem: Going All to Pieces". The New York Times. Published February 1, 1998.
- ↑ "Rock Concert Question: Are Lighter Salutes Bad for the Environment?" Live Science, July 15, 2006.
- ↑ N. Cohen, Folk Music: a Regional Exploration (Greenwood, 2005), p. 297.
- ↑ D. R. Adams, Rock 'n' roll and the Cleveland Connection Music of the Great Lakes (Kent State University Press, 2002), ISBN 0873386914, p. 70.
- ↑ 34.0 34.1 S. Frith, "Pop Music" in S. Frith, W. Straw and J. Street, The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 100-1.
- ↑ 35.0 35.1 Aaron, Charles (2002). "Don't Fight the Power". In Jonathan Lethem, Paul Bresnick. Da Capo Best Music Writing 2002: The Year's Finest Writing on Rock, Pop, Jazz, Country, and More. Da Capo Press. p. 132. ISBN 0306811669, 9780306811661.
- ↑ P. Buckley, The Rough Guide to Rock: the definitive guide to more than 1200 artists and bands (Rough Guides, 2003)
- ↑ H. George-Warren, P. Romanowski and J. Pareles, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Fireside, 3rd edn., 2001), p. 1060.
References and further readingEdit
- Middleton, Richard. "Popular Music (I)". Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (subscription required). Accessed 2007-04-06.
- Randel, Don (1986). The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-61525-5.
- Temperley, Nicholas. "Ballad (II, 2)". Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (subscription required). Accessed 2007-04-06.
- Witmer, Robert. "Ballad (jazz)". Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (subscription required). Accessed 2007-04-06.
- Marcello Sorce Keller, "Sul castel di mirabel: Life of a Ballad in Oral Tradition and Choral Practice", Ethnomusicology, XXX(1986), no. 3, 449- 469.
- The Ballad Society of Japan
- The British Literary Ballads Archive
- The Bodleian Library Ballad Collection: view facsimiles of printed ballads
- The English Broadside Ballad Archive: searchable database of ballad images, citations, and recordings
- Welsh Ballads Website
- The Traditional Ballad Index
- Black-letter Broadside Ballads Of The years 1595-1639 From the Collection of Samuel Pepys
- Smithsonian Global Sound: The Music of Poetry — audio samples of poems, hymns and songs in ballad meter.
- The Oxford Book of Ballads, complete 1910 book by Arthur Quiller-Couch
- Great Rock Ballads
- Jazz and Vocal Ballads
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