Annotation:O dear! what can the matter be

Find traditional instrumental music

X:1 T:O dear what can the matter be M:G L:1/8 R:Air Q:"Slow" B:Aird - Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, B:vol. 4 (1796, No. 15, p. 6) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:G V:1 clef=treble name="1." [V:1] d3 d3|dBg dBG|c3 c3|cAB cBA| d3 d3|dBg dBG|EGc BcA|1G3 z3:|2G3 z2|| |:d|dBc dBc|dBg dBG|cAB cAB|cAB cBA| dBc dBc|dBg dBG|EGc BcA|G3 z2:|]

OH DEAR! WHAT CAN THE MATTER BE (Oc On Cad E Do Tarlad). AKA - "What can the matter be?" AKA and see "Johnny's So Long at the Fair (1)," "Quadrille 6th Set – Finale." English, Irish, Scottish, Canadian; Air (6/8 time), Quickstep, Jig or Morris Dance Tune (6/8 time). G Major (most versions): E Flat Major (Scott): C Major (Howe): A Mixolydian (McLachlan). Standard tuning (fiddle). One part (Scott): AB (Bacon, Hardings, Manson, Mattson & Walz, O'Neill): AABB (Howe): AA'BB (Kerr): AA'BB' (Sumner/Gibbons): AABBCCDDEE' (Cranford/Holland). The first published record of this song is in the British Lyre, or Muses' Repository for 1792, later appearing in the James Evan's Ladies Memorandum for the Year 1794. However, it is thought to be older, and perhaps originally in 9/8 time[1]. It had been sung as a famous duet between Samuel Harrison and his wife, the soprano Miss Cantelo, at "Harrison's Concerts," periodic events which he began in 1776. The song, still popular as a nursery rhyme, has been endlessly parodied ("Oh, dear, what can the matter be, two old maids were locked in the lavatory...").

Versions appear in a number of English musicians' manuscripts, such as that of fiddler Joshua Gibbons (1778-1871, Tealby, Lincolnshire), William Clarke (1858, Felton, Norfolk, East Anglia), and multi-instrumentalist John Rook (1840, Waverton, Cumbria). The tune was used for a morris dance in the village of Wheatley, Oxfordshire, England. An early manuscript version appears in William O. Adams' music commonplace book, inscribed "London, September 4th 1795," although manuscript made its way to America (perhaps having been purchased in London) with American tunes also included (it is now in the Library of Congress). An unidentified music copybook from c. 1811 (probably from Connecticut or Massachusetts) also contains the melody, as does Boston keyboard player Elizabeth Van Rensselaer's music copybook, which she began in the year 1782.

Oh Dear! What can the matter be?
Oh Dear! What can the matter be?
Oh Dear! What can the matter be?
Johnny's so long at the Fair.
He promised he'd bring me a basket of posies,
A garland of lilies, a garland of roses,
A little straw hat to set off the blue ribbons
That tie up my bonny brown hair.

The melody has also been popular with flute and fife players, and shows up in such publications as Sameul Holyoke's Instrumental Assistant (Exeter, N.H., 1800) and Daniel Steele's New and Complete Preceptor for the German Flute (Albany, N.Y., 1815). "O dear! what can the matter be" was used for "Quadrille 6th Set – Finale" in the 6th Set of Quadrilles in a ms. in the French language, dated 1830, which can be viewed at the American Vernacular Manuscripts site.

Variation sets on the tune were printed in Köhler's Violin Repository (Edinburgh, 1881-1885) and have been elaborated on and developed by generations of Cape Breton fiddlers. Bill Lamey (1914-1987) learned the variations he played from Alex Gillis, another Cape Breton fiddler who, like Lamey, had emigrated to Boston. Lamey said that Gillis had composed them himself. Jerry Holland (1955-2009) learned variation sets from Angus Chisholm, Bill Lamey and Alex Gillis.

Additional notes
Source for notated version : - the 1823-26 music mss of papermaker and musician Joshua Gibbons (1778-1871, of Tealby, near Market Rasen, Lincolnshire Wolds) [Sumner].

Printed sources : - Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 4), 1796; No. 15, p. 6. Bacon (The Morris Ring), 1974; p. 308. Cranford (Jerry Holland: The Second Collection), 2000; No. 297, p. 106. John Hall (A Selection of Strathspeys Reels, Waltzes & Irish Jigs), c. 1818; p. 17. Hardings All-Round Collection, 1905; No. 157, p. 50. Howe (Complete Preceptor for the Accordeon), 1843; p. 18. Elias Howe (First Part of the Musician's Companion), 1842; p. 15. Kerr (Merry Melodies vol. 2), c. 1880's; No. 254, p. 28. Laybourn (Köhler’s Violin Repository vol. 3), c. 1885; p. 266. J. Kenyon Lees (Balmoral Reel Book), Glasgow, 1910; p. 33. Manson (Hamilton's Universal Tune Book, vol. 2), 1846; p. 62. Mattson & Walz (Old Fort Snelling... Fife), 1974; p. 74. John McLachlan (Piper’s Assistant), 1854; No. 63, p. 36. O'Neill (Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies), 1903; No. 620, p. 109. Edward Riley (Riley's Flute Melodies, vol. 1), New York, 1814; No. 352, p. 95. Scott (English Song Book), 1926; p. 43. Sumner (Lincolnshire Collections, vol. 1: The Joshua Gibbons Manuscript), 1997; p. 20.

Recorded sources : - Rounder 82161-7032-2, Bill Lamey - "From Cape Breton to Boston and Back: Classic House Sessions of Traditional Cape Breton Music 1956-1977" (2000).

See also listing at :
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index [1]
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]
Alan Ng's [3]

Back to O dear! what can the matter be

(0 votes)

  1. R.D. Cannon, "English Bagpipe Music", Folk Music Journal, vol. 2, No. 3, 1972, p. 205. Cannon cites Opie (249) who found a version in a manuscript of about 1775, "but the metre requires a 9/8, not a 6/8 tune --for example the word "dear" does not occur in the first line.: O saw ye him coming, And saw ye him coming, O saw ye him coming, Hames frae the Newcastle fair."