Corn Riggs

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X:1 T:Corn Riggs are Bonny M:C| L:1/8 R:Air B:Cibber - Patie and Peggy (1730, Air VII) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:Bb F2|B2d2d2 (cB)|A3B c2F2|B2d2d3c|B2f4 F2| B2d2d2 (cB)|A3B c2A2|B2G2 A3G|F2B4|| F2|B2f2 de f2|A3B c2F2|B2f2 (de)(fe)|d2 f4 dc| d2f2 (de) f2|A3B c2A2|B2G2 A3G|F4 B4||



CORN RIGGS (ARE BONNY). AKA and see "New Corn Riggs," "Northern Song (A)," "Riggs o' Barley." Scottish (originally), Irish, English; Reel and Country Dance Tune. Scotland, Lowland region. England; Northumberland, northwest England. Ireland, County Donegal. C Major (Thomson): D Major (Barnes, Hall & Stafford, Kerr, Lerwick, Kennedy, Miller & Perron, Raven, Sweet): G Major (Athole, Emmerson, Milne, Wade, Williamson). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Thomson): AAB (Athole, Emmerson): AABB (most versions): AABBCCDDEEFFGGHHIIJJ (Hall & Stafford {includes variations). The 'riggs' referred to in the title specifically are furrows of a newly plowed field, though the title is taken to mean fields of grain. Scottish poet Robert Burns set verses to the melody, describing the seduction of a girl named 'Annie' in such a field. In modern times the lyric scans as innocuous enough, but hardly so in the Victorian era. David Murray (1994) references a footnote in a Victorian era collection of Scots songs which reads: "As the prevalent idea of this fine song as originally written by Robert Burns renders it unfit to be sung by ladies, or in the company of ladies, a modern version, retaining as much of the old lines as possible, is here presented."

The tune, a Scottish Measure, dates from the 17th century and has had currency in both "old" and "new" sets. The new set has words written to it by the Scottish national poet Robert Burns, and is still popular, while an "old set" of the tune was printed in the Panmure 9454 MS, Seventy-Seven Dances, Songs and Scots Airs for the Violin (c. 1675). Munro wrote a variation sonata based on the tune published in 1732 (Collection of Scots Tunes) and it was his idea to combine the Scottish air-jig form with the Italian sonata da camera. The melody was ascribed to Robert McIntosh by Mr. John Glen who added it in hand in his copy soon after it was published (in the McLean Collection by James Johnson in Edinburgh in 1772).

Chappell (1859) asserts that the melody was taken from an English tune called "Sawney was tall and of noble race," a song in Thomas D'Urfey's play The Virtuous Wife (1680), although there was no music printed with the text. A former London Wait, Thomas Farmer, has been credited, however, with composing the music for The Virtuous Wife. The "Sawney" melody is printed by Playford in Choice Ayres (vol. iii, p. 9, see below) along with D'Urfey's words as "A Northern Song," without the name of the composer. Emmerson (1971) also suggests the prototype for "Corn Riggs" is the melody "Sawney," which he says can be found in John Playford's Apollo's Banquet (Fifth Ed., 1687) [see notation, below]. Similarly, it was the opinion of G. Farquhar Graham, writing in The Popular Songs and Melodies of Scotland (Glasgow 1893), that "...setting aside historical evidence, of which there is plenty, whoever will look at the air without prejudice, must see that it has no Scottish characteristics whatever, and that its flowing English style is apparent from the first bar to the last." John Glen in Early Scottish Melodies (1900, p. 51), admits the tune is "somewhat of an English character," but still maintains it could have been a Scot imitating English style (as certainly did English composers of the Scottish). Allan Ramsay is credited with the name "Corn riggs are bonny" for the melody, which appears in his Tea Table Miscellany. Stenhouse believed that a much older Scottish song of "Corn Rigs" to the tune predated Ramsay's. Glen (1900) thought this correct, from the fact that an entirely different tune in the Blaikie Manuscript (1692) is called "New Cornriges" (No. 104). The words to the song were printed by William Thomson in his Orpheus Caledonius, vol. 2 (1733, No. 18), and tell of a maid who embraces her seduction:

My Patience's is a Lover gay,
His mind is never muddy,
His Breath is sweeter than new Hay,
His Face if fair and ruddy.
His shape is handsome, middle size,
He's stately in his walking;
The shining of his Eee surprise,
'Tis Heaven to hear him talking.

Last Night I met him on a Back,
Where yellow Corn was growing,
There many a kinky Work he spake,
That set my Heart a glowing.
He kiss'd, and vow'd he wad be mine,
And loo'd me best of ony;
That gars me like to sing sinsyne
O Corn Riggs are bonny.

Let Maidens of a silly Mind,
Refuse what waist they're wanting,
Since we for yielding are design'd,
We chastly should be granting;
Then I'll comply, and marry Pate,
And syne my Cockerony,
He's free to tousle air or late,
Where Corn Riggs are bonny.

Along with the previously mentioned sources, other stage works incorporated the melody; it was used, for example, by Ramsay in his ballad opera The Gentle Shepherd (1725), which was published three years before Gay's Beggar's Opera made the genre famous. Theophilus Cibber employed the melody for a song in his Scotch ballad opera Patie and Peggy (1730, Air VII). Also in England, the piece was used as a vehicle for a polka step in the North-West Morris tradition (Wade), and the title appears in Henry Robson's list of popular Northumbrian song and dance tunes, which he published c. 1800. It is one of the "missing tunes" from William Vickers' 1770 manuscript of Northumbrian melodies. Corn Rigs is also the name of a country dance frequently taught by country dance masters in Scotland in the 19th century. Caoimhin Mac Aoidh (1994) remarks that the tune and dance were well-known in County Donegal, and states "its popularity may be inferred by the existence of at least three versions of the tune which is widespread throughout the county including a very masterful one by (fiddler) Mickey Doherty." Scottish poet Robert Burns employed the air for his song "Riggs o' Barley," by which name the air is sometimes known.

Set as a march, the melody was employed by the former King's Own Royal Regiment, the 4th of Foot, which David Murray (Music of the Scottish Regiments, Edinburgh, 1994, p. 206) says was "one of the regiments originally raised to garrison Tangier, part of the dowry brought by Princess Catherine of Braganza when she married King Charles II in 1660." In modern times "Corn Riggs" is part of the medley of tunes (along with "D'yer Ken John Peel," and "The Lass o' Gowrie") played since 1959 as the march past of the King's Own Royal Border Regiment. It was also played as a march past by other regiments. "The Royal Lancaster Regiment at one time went past to the strains of "The Lancashire Poacher," but around 1880 "Corn Riggs are Bonnie" was substituted for this air. The change was probably made owing to the fact that one or two other corps had a very similar, or perhaps identical, step, called "The Lincolnshire Poacher"[1].



X:1
T:Sawney was tall
M:C|
L:1/8
S:Playford (1687)
Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion
K:C
c2 cde2 dc|B3A d3G|c3d (ef) ed|c2g2g2G2|
c3d e2 (dc)|B3A d2 (cB)|A3G AB cA|G2c2 c3c||
cc gg ef g2|B2d2d3d|c2g2e3d|(cd) (ef) g3c|
c2 gg (ag)(fe)|(dc)(BA) B2 AG|A3G ABcA|G2c2 c4||



Additional notes

Source for notated version: -

Printed sources : - Barnes (English Country Dance Tunes, vol. 2), 2005; p. 22. Emmerson (Rantin' Pipe and Tremblin' String), 1971; No. 22, p. 126. Hall & Stafford (Charlton Memorial Tune Book), 1956; p. 22. Jarman (The Cornhuskers Book of Old Time Fiddlin' Tunes); No. or p. 20. Kennedy (Fiddler's Tune-Book, vol. 1), 1951; No. 14, p. 7. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 1), c. 1880; No. 1, p. 24. Lerwick (Kilted Fiddler), 1985; p. 9. McGibbon (Collection of Scots Tunes, vol. 1), c. 1762; p. 28. Miller & Perron (101 Polkas), 1978; No. 92. Miller & Perron (New England Fiddler's Repertoire), 1983; No. 79. Milne (Middleton’s Selection of Strathspeys, Reels &c. for the Violin), 1870; p. 37. Northumbrian Pipers' Tune Book, vol. 2; p. 2. Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, vol. 2), 1760; pp. 22–23. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 165. Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 148. Sweet (Fifer's Delight), 1964; p. 63. William Thomson (Orpheus Caledonius, vol. 2), 1733; No. 18, p. 76. Thumoth (12 English and 12 Irish Airs), 1746; No. 11, pp. 22–23. Wade (Mally's North West Morris Book), 1988; p. 19. Williamson (English, Welsh, Scotch and Irish Fiddle Tunes), 1976; p. 47. Wilson (A Companion to the Ballroom), 1816; p. 37.

Recorded sources: -Topic 12TS382, New Victory Band – "One More Dance and Then" (1978, learned from Yorkshire melodeon player George Tremain). Topic 12TS283, Ned Pearson. Topic TSCD 669, Ned Pearson (et al) – "Ranting and Reeling: Dance Music of the north of England" (1998. Fiddler Pearson was born c. 1875 at Cambo, near Morpeth, Northumberland).



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  1. Walter Wood, "The Romance of Regimental Marches", Pall Mall Magazine, vol. 9, 1898, pp. 421-430.