Bertrand Harris Bronson:
The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads


Bertrand Bronson's Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads begins where Francis James Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads leaves off. In four large volumes published by Princeton University Press between 1959 and 1972, Bronson brought together all available tunes for each of Child's ballads together with their texts, annotated and organized them, with notes describing the history and development of each tune and tune family. The collection was immediately accepted as an indispensable text for ballad scholars, performers, and students of the ballad tradition - nearly 2,200 pages of tunes and texts with notation for 4,120 tunes - a milestone in ballad scholarship that has never been surpassed.

This essential reference work on the ballads went out of print soon after publication of the last volume in 1972 and second hand copies of the four volumes have been fetching well over £1000. Bronson's important work has now been made available again in a digitally printed edition from Loomis House Press in conjuction with Camsco Music (who distribute Springthyme Records in the USA) and with the permission of the original publishers Princeton University Press. To reduce postage costs on these heavy volumes the new edition is being printed in the UK as well as the USA at a list price in the UK of £30 (hardback) and £25 (paperback).

Bertrand Bronson was a professor of English Literature at Princeton and had already published numerous works on English Literature before he published the first volume of his Traditional Tunes in 1957. Child's work, first published in between 1882 to 1898, contained the texts and variants of 305 ballads taken from archive and manuscript collections written down between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries. Bronson followed Child's well-established ballad numbering system but by the time he was compiling his collection in the mid 20th century he had access to the work of numerous folksong and ballad collectors in England, Ireland, Scotland and throughout North America - ballads collected from a still rich oral tradition.

The Special Offer CD:
Anyone purchasing the full set of four volumes of the new edition of Bronson from the Springthyme website will be offered a FREE CD containing the complete 2,200 pages of tunes and texts and notation for 4,120 tunes - in a fully searchable pdf file. Camsco Music plan to release the digital CD version for commercial sale at a later date but have, meantime, given permission for this limited free distribition. Each ballad can be individually accessed from the index and the additional ballad variants included in the addenda to volume four are easily accessed along with the numbered ballads to which the variants belong.

Contents of each volume:
Volume One (1957) includes ballads 1 to 53 from Riddles Wisely Expounded (#1) and The Elfin Knight (#2) to The Twa Sisters (#10) and Lord Randal (#12) to The Twa Magicians (#44) and Lord Bateman/ Young Beichan (#53).

Volume Two (1962) includes ballads 54 to 113 in 565 pages from The Cherry Tree Carol (#54) to The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry (#113) with many favourites such as Sir Patrick Spens (#58) and with 198 versions of the most popular and widely sung of all the traditional ballads Barbara Allen (#84).

At the time volume 2 was published in 1962, Professor Bronson had not yet gained access to the massive archive of ballads collected from recent Scottish tradition and held in the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh. However, after visiting Scotland in 1964, Bronson was able to include many ballad variants from the School's archive in the third and fourth volumes - much of it from the collecting work of Hamish Henderson and Francis Collinson. From the Scottish perspective this makes these latter volumes particularly important. Many Scottish (and North American) variants of ballads appropriate to the first two volumes were later included in the addendum to volume four and the most important of these are also included in the abridged Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballads.

Volume Three (1966) includes ballads 114 to 243 in 496 pages. The first of these Johnie Cock (#114) is one of Scotland's most important ballads and still part of the living oral tradition often under the title Johnnie o Braideslea. Three versions of the ballad are included from the School's archive: from John Strachan of Fyvie, from Jeannie Robertson of Aberdeen and from John Gillon of Brechin. This volume also included all the traditional Robin Hood Ballads (#117 to #153), The Battle of Harlaw (#163), Mary Hamilton (#173), The Braes o Yarrow/ Dowie Dens o Yarrow (#214) and Glenlogie (#238).

Volume Four (1973) includes ballads 245 to 299 in 576 pages from The Grey Cock (#248) and Henry Martin (#250) to a nember of still very popular ballads such as Our Goodman (#274), The Farmer's Curst Wife (#278), The Jolly Beggar (#279) and Trooper and the Maid (#299). As mentioned above, the fourth volume also includes an addenda with many ballad versions from more recent tradition that had been missed from the earlier volumes.

The Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballads

Bronson's The Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballads is a single-volume, abridged edition of his four volume Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads in 576 pages in a large 7" x 12" format. To create this edition, Bronson selected those tunes and texts which had the strongest representation in the oral tradition, excluding those from the original collection which only existed in print. So here are the tunes and texts of over 160 ballads collected from oral tradition, many in multiple versions - e.g. Barbara Allen 20 texts & tunes, Elfin Knight 9 texts & tunes, The Jolly Beggar 6 texts and tunes. The volume has an excellent new introduction where Bronson analyses the essential unity of a ballad text and tune and he shows how ballad tunes have evolved to produce tune families. His introduction to the modal structure of tunes in the Anglo-American tradition is essential reading for singers and students of the ballad tradition. As mentioned above, many Scottish (and North American) variants of ballads appropriate to the first two volumes of Bronson's Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads were later included in the addendum to volume four and the most important of these are also included in this abridged edition. The edition was first published by Princeton University Press in 1976 in both paperback and hardback editions. Both are now quite difficult to obtain and the hardback is not only rare but has been fetching over £400. This new edition (November 2009) is from Loomis House Press in conjuction with Camsco Music at list price of $49.95 (hardback) and $39.95 (paperback). It is being printed in both USA and UK and is available from the Springthyme Bookshop.

Scotland's Child Ballad Site is gradually increasing the number of pages devoted to the Child ballads. We eventually intend to provide links and pages for all the ballads that are still part of the Scottish oral tradition - with links to sound files of archive field recordings. For a start, here's a link to Child#2: The Elfin Knight and another to Child#12: Lord Randal. In each case the texts have been taken unedited from earlier editions of Child including the new Loomis House edition (with permission) with hypertext links to enable easy navigation through the ballad variants. A [ LINK ] has also been provided on each Child ballad page that leads to an expandable selection of pages of traditional versions from the archives - Versions from the Singing Tradition - which will include ballad variants collected from current and recent living tradition with linked sound files yet to be put in place. For MORE BALLADS go to the Child Ballads: Numbered List.

There are now quite a number of sites on the internet where ballad texts can be found. A few of these sites also provide tunes, usually as midi files. Some sites provide access to texts and tunes of ballads versions from well known folk singers, but there are few links to archive versions collected from the living tradition. But many of the ballads are still part of a living cultural tradition - especially here in Scotland at the heart of Child's ballad country. Who in Scotland does NOT know snippets at least of such ballads as Barbara Allen (Child #84), The Dowie Dens o Yarrow (Child #214), Mary Hamilton (Child #173), Sir Patrick Spens (Child #58), The Jolly Beggar (Child #279) or Mill o Tifty's Annie (Child #233) - even if only as recitations in school or as part of English studies at University? In recent years the folk song revival has led to a reawakening of interest by singers in acquiring an active ballad repertoire. With currently available technology there is no reason at all why there should not be access to a wide range of ballads with texts, background information about source singers, archive and commercial recordings, tunes and linked sound files!

We would welcome suggestions and would be pleased to accept ballad variants, text and sound file links to the site. Contact us by email:

Peter Shepheard
Administrator: Scotland's Child Ballad Site
Balmalcolm House Balmalcom, Cupar, Fife KY15 7TJ, Scotland.
tel: +44 (0)1337 830773

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