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Welcome to the Traditional Tune Archive
The Semantic Index of North American, British and Irish traditional instrumental music with annotation, formerly known as
The Fiddler's Companion.

Featured Tunes

An Londubh

Listen to the featured tunes of the weekTHE BLACKBIRD.
(An Londubh). AKA and see "Once on a morning of sweet recreation," "Bonny Lass of Aberdeen (The)." See "Napoleon Crossing the Rhine" for an American version of the same tune. Irish, English; Slow Air, Set, Long or Country Dance (4/4 time), Reel, Hornpipe. D Major (Allan, O'Neill/1850): D Major/Mixolydian (Cranitch, Moylan, Mulvihill, O'Neill/1001): D Mixolydian (Breathnach, Johnson, Kennedy, Kerr, O'Neill/1915 & Krassen, Raven, & Roche). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Moylan): AAB (Johnson, Kennedy, Raven, Roche): AABB (Allan, Breathnach, Cranitch, Mulvihill, O'Farrell, O'Neill {4 editions}): AABCBC (Roche). The original song from which the instrumental versions take the title was written c. 1707 in praise of the Old Pretender, according to Grattan Flood (1906), who found reference to it as early as 1709 and who noted its printing by Allan Ramsay in 1724 in his Tea Table Miscellany (Ramsey records that he took the song down from an Irish participant who took part in the 1715 revolt). Other sources date the words from the war of 1688–90. So well understood was the nickname The Blackbird as applied to James I, Flood says, that the Jacobite Earl of Thomond, in 1704, had a horse of that name. Caoimhin Mac Aodha points out that the image of the blackbird, An Lon Dubh, is that of a melodious harbinger of joy in Irish folklore, unlike the raven, crow, rook or jackdaw, which are all associated with death and misfortune. In this spirit of hope the 'Blackbird' name was applied after the Old Pretender to the later James II and, in the 19th century, to Charles Stewart Parnell.

The melody itself became known as a harp air of the latter Jacobite period. Cooke included it in his Selection of Favourite Original Irish Airs arranged for Pianoforte, Violin or Flute (Dublin, 1793), but in 1806 O'Farrell was already printing it with the note "Very old." O'Neill (1913) finds a simple setting of the melody in A Pocket Volume of Airs, Songs, Marches, etc., vol. 1, published by Paul Alday at Dublin about 1800–1803. Breathnach (1963) printed a verse of the song that was in his source's (George Rowley) family:

The Maytime is come and the gay flowers are springing,
The wild birds are singing their loving notes o'er;
But all the day long through my lone heart is ringing,
The voice of my blackbird, I'll never so more.

Later the melody gained currency as a set-dance tune, and the Scottish editor Kerr noted that the tune was the "Chef D'oeuvre of all the Irish fiddlers" in the latter 1800's, although he never heard any two of them play the tune exactly alike. He claims his version to be a composite of the styles and embellishments he heard. About the year 1930 an itinerant schoolteacher told a young John Kelly: "There are a lot of people playing 'The Blackbird' who can't play it right, but I'm warning you, my boy, never play 'The Blackbird' unless you have all the parts right and the proper tempo. It's the one tune you will always be picked up for if you play it wrong" (quoted in Dal gCais, 1979, p. 35). James Cowdery (1990) states that it is one of the few tunes found in all parts of Ireland with the same title and the same melodic structure, though variations abound. Donegal fiddler Neillidh Boyle (1889–1961), for example, played an intricate version of "Londubh (An)" which included a birdsong imitation generated by playing the melody on the bottom strings with the bow and fingering and plucking chords on the top two strings with the left hand at the same time (Mac Aoidh, 1994). An interesting tracing of the aural tradition was outlined by Mac Aoidh who remarks that southwest Donegal fiddler Frank Cassidy learned the tune from the lilting of John Lyons or Teelin. The famous musician and collector Séamus Ennis learned this version, which in turn was passed onto fiddler Tommie Potts, who made a historic recording of the tune. Elsewhere Mac Aoidh states that in south Donegal the air/hornpipe is associated with John and Mickey Doherty and James Byrne as well as Cassidy.

In modern titles the song is seldom sung, though the tune is frequently played as a slow air as well as a set-dance and other settings. In Irish tradition "The Blackbird" is one of the four tunes called the Traditional Sets (i.e. set dances), along with "Job of Journeywork (1)," "St. Patrick's Day" and "Garden of Daisies (1) (The)." Breandan Breathnach (1971) states that the original set dance was "said to have been composed by Keily, a Limerick dancing master, over 150 years ago." Cowdry (1990) points out the set-dance's structure—fifteen bars for the 'A' part and thirty for the 'B'—is unique in Irish traditional music. Reel and hornpipe versions are not nearly so widespread in this century, "until some recent recordings (such as "The Bothy Band" in 1977) brought them to more prominence" (Cowdery). Cowdery provides extensive musical analysis of a number of different versions of this tune and tune family in his work The Melodic Tradition of Ireland. Sliabh Luachra fiddler Denis Murphy was renowned in Ireland for the way he could play "The Blackbird" on the fiddle and dance at the same time (Donal Hickey, Stone Mad for Music, 1999).

THE BLACKBIRD full annotations and Past Featured Tunes

T:Blackbird [1], The
R:Set Dance
S:O'Neill - Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems (1907), No. 985
Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion
D2 DE|F2FG|A2 fe|dcde|dcAF|GAGF|D2D2|D2:|
|:de|f2d2|f2g2|abag fgaf|g2 gf|gbaf|gagf|d2 de|fede|f2g2|
abag|fgaf|gagf|d2d2|defg|abag|fgaf|gage|f2 ed|c2AB|
c2 de|defg|a2 z2|A3G|FGAB|=c3e|d^cAF|GAGF|D2D2|D2:||

Why TTA Who builds the Archive

Although we are not trained musicologists and make no pretense to the profession, we have tried to apply such professional rigors to this Semantic Abc Web as we have internalized through our own formal and informal education.

This demands the gathering of as much information as possible about folk pieces to attempt to trace tune families, determine origins, influences and patterns of aural/oral transmittal, and to study individual and regional styles of performance.
Many musicians, like ourselves, are simply curious about titles, origins, sources and anecdotes regarding the music they play. Who, for example, can resist the urge to know where the title Blowzabella came from or what it means, or speculating on the motivations for naming a perfectly respectable tune Bloody Oul' Hag, is it Tay Ye Want?
Knowing the history of the melody we play, or at least to have a sense of its historical and social context, makes the tune 'present' in the here and now, and enhances our rendering of it.

Andrew Kuntz & Valerio Pelliccioni

Please register as a user to make the most of the many functions of the TTA, and enjoy the many ways that information about traditional tunes can be elicited and combined, from simple to complex situations. Users may make contributions, which, when reviewed by an editor, become part of this community project. Serious user/contributors may become editors through the TTA's autopromotion process, in which quantity and quality of entries allows increased levels of permission to edit and review the entire index.
Above all, the developers wish you joy in the use of the TTA.

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  • Tune Books/Magazines in the TTA can be accessed under “Issues” in the left side bar. These are reproductions of publications for which access has been granted to the TTA by the copyright holder, under the Creative Commons license.