Researching Tunes for the Rosebery Collection

By Caroline Bennet, EBBA Music Specialist

The Rosebery Collection presents a unique challenge for finding tunes because many of the tunes named are Scottish and therefore not found in Claude M. Simpson's British Broadside Ballad and Its Music. It takes some searching to find these tunes, which do not immediately appear in the Google search engine or library database searches.

It was an exciting experience to find the tune for Rosebery 52. It has the tune imprint “Pollwarth on the Green,” but I could not find the music notation for such a tune using any of my sources. I held on to the title in my mind though in case I should find it at a later date. One day I found a long list of Scottish tunes in the index to a songbook by William McGibbon from 1760 and in the list was the tune “Polwart on the Green.” When I searched for this tune I found the music notation online! What I realized is that we are working at the edge of knowledge; Google did not perform a spell-check for this search. The Google search engine could have replaced “Pollwarth” with “Polwart” but even Google didn't know!

Sometimes the chorus can give a clue to the tune for a ballad if the tune titles are different. Rosebery 8 has a lively chorus “And he ran, and she ran, and she ran, and he ran,” and the tune imprint “Race of Sheriff-muir.” I found a different tune title in music notation in the National Library of Scotland digital archive: “The Battle of Sheriff-muir” has a similar poetic meter and the chorus “And we ran, and they ran, and they ran, and we ran”; thus I used this melody for our ballad.

What is interesting is that many of the Rosebery ballads are still being sung today by Scottish folk bands. It is inspiring to find ballads from the late 17th and early 18th century interpreted for modern ears. The tune for Rosebery 37, “Lochaber No More,” is found in a scholarly book by Helen Kendrich Johnson. This exact ballad appears on YouTube, sung by Breabach, a contemporary Scottish folk band, who give a beautiful rendition. Not solely found on paper in a library (or now in our cutting edge digital archive!), this ballad is still being performed today. Its relevance to people continues centuries later.