Flower of Yarrow (The)

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FLOWER OF YARROW, THE. AKA and see "Long Cold Nights," "Sir John Fenwick's the Flower amang Them All." English, Air (6/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). ABC. The tune appears under the "Flower of Yarrow" title in Harburn, Northumberland musician Henry Atkinson's 1694 music manuscript collection [1]. It is a version of "Long Cold Nights" printed by Henry Playford in Apollo's Banquet (1690) and also of the song "Sir John Fenwick's the Flower amang Them All." Northumbrian smallpiper and researcher Matt Seattle notes the tune flourished on both sides of the Border and is still popular in Northumberland, where the first and third strains of Atkinson's tune have survived in smallpipe repertoire.

James Johnson printed a song called "Mary Scott the Flower of Yarrow" in his Scots Musical Museum, to a variant of Atkinson's melody. Stenhouse, in his notes to the airs in the Museum calls the tune an "ancient Border air" that originally consisted of a simple strain, to which a second strain, barely singable due to its octave leaps was added. It was printed in Thomson's Orpheus Caledonius (1725) to verses by Allan Ramsay, beginning "Happy's the love that meets return." The author said that "I frequently heard the old song, in my younger days, sung on the banks of the Tweed. It consisted of several stanzas of four lines each; and the constant burden of which was, "Mary Scott's the flow'r o' Yarrow."

Mary Scott was a real person, the daughter of Phillip Scott of Dryhope in Selkirk, renowned for her beauty. Unfortunately her husband, Walter Scott, laird of Harden, was himself equally "renowned for his depredations."

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