In the Fields in Frost and Snow

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IN THE FIELDS IN FROST AND SNOW. English, Air and Country Dance Tune (2/2 time). D Minor. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The melody dates to 1710, when it was first published in the Second Volume of the Dancing Master, first edition, issued by John Young in London. It appears in subsequent volumes of the work (1714, 1718, 1728). The melody proved popular and was picked up by the Walshes for the Second Book of the Compleat Country Dancing-Master (London, 1719 and 1754).

The song version is said to be the precursor to the favorite and familiar children's song, "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" [1]. While the melody is dissimilar, there is a rhythmic similarity in the chorus, and the lyric (as printed by Tom D'Urfey in 1719) is decidedly similar. The first two stanzas go:

In the fields in frost and snows,
Watching late and early;
There I keep my father's cows,
There I milk 'em yearly:
Booing here, booing there,
Here a boo, there a boo, everywhere a boo,
We defy all care and strife,
In a charming country life.

Then at home amongst the fowls,
Watching late and early;
There I tend my father's owls,
There I feed 'em yearly:
Whooing here, whooing there,
Here a whoo, there a whoo, everywhere a whoo,
We defy all care and strife,
In a charming country life.

D'Urfey's text is taken from the song as sung in the ballad opera Wonders of the Sun; or, The Kingdom of the Birds, which premiered at the Queen's Theatre in 1706. It was sung by "Miss Willis", probably Mary, the young daughter of actress Mrs. Elizabeth Willis; Mary may have only been aged eight or so at the time. The opera was not particularly successfull, but the song survived and flourished, and versions can be her in later ballad operas, including Polly (1729), The Lover's Opera (1729), The Stage-Mutineers; or, a Playhouse to be Let (1733), Sancho at Court; or, the Mock Governor (1742) and Love and Revenge; or, The Vintner Outwitted (1781). Thomas D'Urfey himself revised (expanded) the song and printed it in his Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy [2], vol. 2 (1719), and it was also issued on numerous song-sheets for many years.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Barnes (English Country Dance Tunes), 1986. Christian (A Playford Assembly), 2015; p. 48.

Recorded sources: Boxwood Records, Chris Norman Ensemble - "In the Fields of Frost and Snow" (2008)




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