Back to Yarrow Vale
YARROW VALE. Scottish, Slow Air (4/4 time). B Flat Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AA. The Yarrow is a river located in Scotland, the headstreams of which rise on the eastern slopes of White Coomb at about 1,500 feet (460 metres) above sea level near the western boundary of Selkirk. They flow northeast as Yarrow Water through a small glaciated ribbon loch (lake) to a confluence with the Tweed near Abbotsford, a few miles west of Galashiels. The vale of Yarrow has strong literary associations—-in poetry and with border ballads such as "Yarrow Vale". The beautiful and historic vale of "soft undulating hills and quiet stream" has been celebrated by Sir Walter Scott and William Wordsworth, and was the ground for many a conflict. The parish of Yarrow takes in one-third of Selkirk.
The music to "Yarrow Vale" was composed by musician and music publisher John Watlen, and published in his Scots Songs, while the lyrics were written by Macdonald.
In Yarrow vale by Yarrow stream,
Where love and youth and beauty stray,
Oft thro' the twilights waving gleam,
Sweet Mary trac'd the dewy way,
She loved the meads, the towering trees.
The fanning of the western gale,
Yet sighed for something still to please,
By Yarrow stream, by Yarrow vale,
By Yarrow stream, by Yarrow vale.
Lyrics were printed in The Musical Miscellaney, or the Songster’s Companion (1789) and similar late 18th and early 19th century collections. The air was included in the large 1840 music manuscript collection (p. 198, as were a number of tunes from Jams Aird's 5th volume) of multi-instrumentalist John Rook of Waverton, near Wigton, Cumbria.
The song was once sung by Urbani in Edinburgh "with unbounded applause" (Neil, 1991). The Italian singer was an acquaintance of poet Robert Burns, whom he met in 1792, and the two discussed songs and suitable tunes for singing. They kept up a correspondance, and Burns apparently valued the singer's opinions, although this seems to have diminished over time. In 1793 he wrote to Edinburgh publisher and entrepreneur George Thomson: "He [Urbani] is, entre nous, a narrow, contracted creature; but he signs so delightfully, that whatever he introduces at your concert must have immedicate celebrity." Urbani, for his part, seems to have wanted a closer collaboration with Burns, and pushed the matter, but Burns pulled back, in part because of committments to publishers James Johnson and George Thomson [Pittock et al, The Reception of Robert Burns in Europe, 2014, p. 270].
Source for notated version:
Printed sources: Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 5), 1801; p. 57. Neil (The Scots Fiddle), 1991; No. 47, p. 63.