Letters - June to July 2000
1941: TRC13: Soviet Fatherlands Song (Land of Freedom). The Soviet State Choir and Orchestra. CP989. (Mislabelled - actually sung by Mark Reizen with Bolshoi Ballet orch & chorus, Cond and comp Dunayevsky. CPCP992).For some time, myself and other fans of the great bass Mark Reizen have been looking for a recording of this song in this "original" version with Reizen. So far we have been unsuccessful. According to articles in the Reizen auto-biography, this song was composed by Isaac Dunayevsky for and in consultation with Reizen.
In the 1930s it seems the whole country was waking up to the sound of the tremendous basso on All-Union Radio singing this song at 6 in the morning. Of course by now the text is outdated and quite politically "incorrect", but the recording should be a historic and musical document of great interest. According to Arkady Vaksberg's book "Stalin against the Jews", this song composed by a Jew and performed by another one is also an example of the contribution of Jewish artists to the Soviet culture in the '30s.
I maintain a website dedicated to "Great Russian Voices" in which Reizen has the most prominent place. Please see http//russia.uthscsa.edu/Music/GRV/Reizen/
I would appreciate knowing more of this recording if you have more information. Is it possible to obtain a recording of this, can it be published or included in a collection such as a possible "Reizen Integral". Indeed, the visitors of my Reizen page would be delighted to hear it if it were possible. Mark Reizen is considered by many as one of the great basses of the 20th century.
Victor Han, Engineer
30 Lakeshore #1004, Pointe Claire, QC, Canada H9S 4H2.
The following responds, in a general way, to some of the criticisms of Classic Ballads I and II, Songs of Seduction, and What Will Become of England that have appeared in Musical Traditions, addressing the issues that seem to have most troubled your reviewers. I do appreciate the fact that - as you note - all of the releases in the Alan Lomax Collection are reviewed in your magazine, and with such perceptiveness and attention to detail. Though here I may not persuade your reviewers to my viewpoint, I would at least like to go on record with it.
Let me first point out that edited performances will only be found in the Classic Ballads volumes of the Folk Songs of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales series. Songs of Seduction, and the Harry Cox, Margaret Barry, and Jeannie Robertson volumes in the Portraits series feature full performances, as will other volumes. We fully appreciate and for the most part agree with the objections that have been raised to presenting part performances, and our decision to keep to the course of the original Caedmon ballad albums was not made lightly, nor without foreknowledge that it would be criticized. It seemed to us, however, that it would still be useful for the non-specialist public to have an overview and sampling of this powerful core European tradition which continues to influence form, narrative style, and dramatic structure in much of the music that is composed and listened to today. While the ballad is a genre that is widely familiar and an exemplar that is used even now, the origins and history of the oral ballad are only vaguely understood, if at all, by contemporary listeners. This is partly because the ballad is no longer part of school curricula as it once was, at least on this side of the Atlantic, having been replaced (along with much 'classic' literature) by myriad thematic studies of contemporary interest. For these reasons, I also stand by Peter Kennedy's and Alan's notes, because I think they do make for a straightforward and interesting - if old-fashioned, in some people's eyes - introduction to this subject. I would also defend the use of fragments on the grounds that not all listeners are prepared to listen to ten or more stanzas of a ballad sung through. Stylistic, melodic, and textual variants performed by several singers from different regions of the country might be more interesting for non-cognoscenti, and they demonstrate vividly the flexibility of the form and the longevity and enduring fascination of ballad themes and stories.
Also, since the ballad albums comprised remakes of earlier albums, it seemed to us entirely appropriate to resubmit them in their original form. Alan was consistent in his approach throughout his work, which was to offer as broad a sampling as possible, in the interest of informing people about what was out there needing to be preserved and investigated. He was not an aficionado or academic behind-a-desk scholar (though he always worked with a view to making ultimate theoretical sense - based on the empirical evidence of song styles - of what he found), but rather saw himself as a pioneer, an activist, and an explorer. And he did not, like some, insist that his way was the only right way, but respected the goals and different methods of working of other investigators.
The erroneous impression given in the introduction of What Will Become of England concerning the first recordings of Harry Cox was in fact corrected in the song note to Barley Straw, which states that Cox recorded for the BBC in 1947. However, we see that the note mistakenly attributes this recording to Alan Lomax (1953). In any case, I take responsibility for this misleading sequence, which may have occurred through some editing of ours rather than Peter Kennedy's. We are making note of all such errors of fact noted by your reviewers in the various British folk song volumes in order to correct them in future printings, and we appreciate their being pointed out. Despite anything said to the contrary, however, Peter did have the opportunity of reviewing the final drafts of the ballad albums before they were submitted to the designer. I do not now recall whether or not he saw What Will Become of England (our associate editor's emails of that particular period were lost), but if he did not, the error is ours.
There have been references in your magazine to a 'Lomax trust', suggesting some sort of rich and impregnable organization. Ours is a small operation, actually, and though we do our best, it does get a bit hairy at times. We'd like to have a bigger budget, but this is folklore, people! Rounder's commitment and support and the enthusiasm and generosity of the many professionals involved in this project are what make it possible. It is not true that the people on our staff are ignorant of the field, as stated in one of the letters you published, although it is quite accurate to say that none of us is a specialist in British folksong. Contrary to a suggestion made by one reviewer, I believe Matthew Barton is spoken for, but he is a talented writer and sound editor. I need hardly point out that we work closely with specialists in many areas of folk music, whether or not they themselves write the notes.
The current editions of the ballads do not constitute the last opportunity for these songs to be heard in their entirety. First, there is a possibility that further volumes with full performances will be published as part of the present series, as appendices to the present abridged editions. Certainly, they will be released at some point in the future. Some of the edited songs will appear in the Portraits albums of John Strachan, Jimmy McBeath, and Davie Stewart. Secondly, we are in the final stages of preserving and copying all of Alan's recordings, and I intend to make CD copies available to appropriate regional or national archives which would be interested in having copies of the field recordings that were made in their areas, and which would make them accessible and take good care of them. This process will take some time, but I hope will have good results. I have already agreed to give copies of the Scottish recordings to the Royal College of Music at Edinburgh, for example; in exchange, they are cataloguing them and transcribing all of the texts. Thirdly, Alan's recordings may eventually be on the Internet, although the sound quality would probably not be as good as on the originals. In any case, my intention is to make Alan's work widely available.
Although one may disagree with Peter Kennedy's approach, his editorship of these albums in no way deserves the epithet of 'inept'. Valid criticisms and disappointments aside, I must say that all of us here were pretty nonplussed by the vindictiveness of a few of the comments about Peter and his work. Peter Kennedy was a pioneer in this field and has made invaluable contributions to it. He seems now to be suffering the same fate of many people who were on the cutting edge in their day and are being trashed in ours. Although the impulse to 'kill off' our predecessors may be a natural one, I don't see what can be gained by vilifying and discrediting them in such a ruthless fashion. It has become one of the favorite sports of the last decade, and frankly, it seems plain ungenerous and ungrateful. I think that there are more constructive ways to advance the field of folklore, which is not in a very strong position as it is. Peter did in fact provide quite a lot of description and anecdotal material about the performers on the album, many of whom he has known and worked with for years.
We thank the reviewer who suggested that we turn to Hamish Henderson's excellent book, Alias MacAlias, for biographies of singers. We had the identical thought, and excerpts from this book will be reprinted in the notes for forthcoming portrait albums of Davy Stewart and others. If you have other constructive suggestions for us, we'd happily consider them.
Thanks for printing this. All the best,
Anna Lomax Chairetakis
The Hobby Horse photograph looks like a Lincolnshire Plough Monday Play double gang, but with 4 Hobby horses. When and where? It appears to have been taken in the summer at the 'Big House' and the House owners are near the centre of the picture. It could be about the 1920's as the 'real' lady in the middle is wearing a cloche hat.Tom then passed on his quest for information to Dr Christopher Cawte, who replied:
While most of the men are in hobby horses they are nearly all dressed as character parts in the Plough Play, a couple of top hatted doctors, a recruiting sergeant in 1st world war uniform, ladies and bessies and tall hatted hat men. However the drum on the wagon on the left and other instruments could imply that its a concert party using their traditional costumes.
You ask about Rod Stradling's photograph, and point out horses, musical instruments (I have only spotted two or three), trees in leaf (I suggest horse chestnut and conifers, some of the latter doing badly), cloche hats, WW I uniform, Charlie Chaplin, and a formally dressed gent at the back. You suggest Lincolnshire. I think I can see the ghost of a large building in fee background. It seems quite straightforward. It is a meeting of the Ploughboys' Hopper, an organisation much like the Morris Ring, at Gainsborough in 1927. On this occasion the teams (all double, and with horses, of course) were Redbourne, North Wheatley, Scampton, and Snitterby. It is well known that the Snitterby Clown got so drunk on the previous Plough Monday that he fell over a wheelbarrow and had compound fractures of both legs. One leg had to be amputated, hence the cart.Anxious to assist with the hunt (not to mention getting some more dirt on D'Arcy the Dastard), I asked the person I thought had sent me the photo - but he denied all knowledge of it! So, if it was you - please contact me again and, if possible, let us know where the photo came from. And any other readers with helpful suggestions are invited to add their four-pen'orth, too.
There is another hypothesis, but I doubt if you will think it worth bothering with. There is no recorded cart (other than as above) in a Lincolnshire Plough Monday play, nor drums or brass instruments. None of the eight horses is clearly of the sieve construction which was uniform in such Plough Monday plays in Lincolnshire as had them, so far as records show, and also they had the rider covered over. There is no mast horse which is characteristic of other recent traditional customs in England, and one is clearly a tourney horse - I suspect all are - which, in the form with dummy legs, is (after the sixteenth century) only recorded in teams formed or stimulated by D'Arcy Ferris, later called D'Arcy de Ferrars, of Cheltenham ... Bidford, Ilmington, possibly Stretton-under-Fosse. I find the photograph reminiscent of the one outside Llewellynn Jewitt's house at Winster, (see my Ritual Animal Disguise. It is the one the publishers decided to put on the dust cover.) There is therefore a good deal to say for your suggestion that it may have been a concert party, or I add possibly a pageant of some kind. Where, when, or what, depends on the source of the photograph, which I do not know.
Rod Stradling - 27.6.00
Now, with newly-acquired responsibilities, and having made the effort to pick out a few tunes on tenor banjo, mandolin and bouzouki, I find myself less able and - frankly - less willing to spend evenings in the pub.
Are any of your readers in a similar position? Is there anyone out there who'd appreciate getting together with other traditional musicians in their own homes and having the occasional (or regular!) session in each others' houses for friends, family, etc.?
Aidan Crossey - 26.6.00
With apologies to all
Reg Hall - 21.6.00
His comments on the notes almost defy any reasoned logic. To use the argument that "notes on commercial LPs and CDs are frequently disappointing and inaccurate" to justify those on the Rounder CDs simply beggars belief. We expect better - although the Rounder CDs are of course a commercial exercise , they are surely also intended as serious musical and social documents. Whatever the reasons for the disappointing notes, whilst Peter Kennedy is shown as the Series Editor and author or co-author of the notes, he can not be surprised if the criticism is laid at his door.
Other releases in the series have shown that we can have better. It saddens me as a British reader to have to note that Stephen Wade, in particular, has done a far more thorough job on the notes to Rounder's American CDs.
Roger Johnson - 20.6.00
Fred McCormick - 17.6.00
Cathal also felt that "the song refers to Bellisle in Co Fermanagh, near Lisbellaw, where my mother came from". Further, he noted Bob Dylan's version; but Ben McGrath's name was not cited.
As usual, I'm pleased to say, John's diligence in unearthing his details extends our knowledge considerably.
Roly Brown - 14.6.00
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