Danny Boy (The Londonderry Air)
DESCRIPTION: The singer laments that her Danny Boy is called away. She promises to be waiting when he returns to her. Even if she dies, she will await him
AUTHOR: Words: Fred(eric) E. Weatherly?
EARLIEST DATE: 1855 (Petrie Collection); words written 1913
KEYWORDS: love separation
FOUND IN: Ireland US
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Silber-FSWB, p. 323, "Danny Boy" (1 text)
Fuld-WFM, p. 337, "Londonderry Air"
SHenry H3, p. 286, "The Londonderry Air" (1 tune, plus a text known not to have been traditional)
O, Jeanie Dear (File: HHH545)
Emmer's Farewell (words by Alfred Perceval Graves; in Aline Waites & Robin Hunter, _The Illustrated Victorian Songbook_, Michael Joseph Ltd., 1984, pp. 200-203)
My Gentle Harp (Words by Thomas Moore) (File: Fire088)
NOTES: Fuld reports that the name "Londonderry Air" came about because the tune "was collected by Miss J. Ross of the county of Londonderry." Little else seems to be known of its ancestry, though it has been used for many texts, few of them popular. Anne G. Gilchrist published an article, "A New Light upon the Londonderry Air" in JFSS (December 1934).
Fuld attributes the words to Fred Weatherly (1848-1929) without supporting documentation, and many people seem unaware of it. Weatherly has six poems attributed to him in Granger's Index to Poetry. "Danny Boy" is not one of then. Three of the pieces ("The Holy City," "The Angels to the Shepherds Sang," and "When the Christ Child Came") are religious; the others appear to be for children. None proved very popular.
Turning to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (13th edition), we find three Weatherly pieces, none of them the same as the ones quoted in Granger's -- though one of them, "Nancy Lee," has had some slight traditional popularity. But none have themes similar to this.
Weatherly does seem to have been popullar in his time. Songs That Never Grow Old, copyrighted 1909 and 1913, has a long list: "Beauty's Eyes," with music by F. Paolo Tosti; "Mona," "Nancy Lee," and "The Midshipmite," all with music by Stephen Adams; "Darby and Joan," and "The Little Tin Soldier" with music by J. L. Molloy -- but most of the songs in that book I have not seen elsewhere.
I have managed to acquire the sheet music for two other Weatherly pieces, "Roses of Picardy" and "The Holy City."
"The Holy City" was published in 1942 with music by Stephen Adams. It is a dream of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Temple and of a heavenly Jerusalem. It is not very original -- and feels both anachronistic and rather silly. I would not file it as great poetry. It did become popular enough to be included in Aline Waites & Robin Hunter, The Illustrated Victorian Songbook, Michael Joseph Ltd., 1984, (pp. 48-54).
"Roses of Picardy," published in 1916 with music by Haydn Wood. It is noteworthy that Wood's name is printed in far larger type than Weatherly. Yet Wood was hardly a big name. I checked five musical references to learn about him. Only one had an entry, and it brief. Percy A. Scholes, The Oxford Companion to Music, ninth edition, corrected, Oxford, 1960, p. 1127, mentions him, giving as his whole biography, "Born near Huddersfield, Yorkshire, in 1882 and died in London in 1959, aged seventy-six. He had a double career as a solo violinist and as a composer some of whose lighter pieces (e.g. Roses of Picardy) had a great vogue." I do note that Jerry Silverman included it in the Mel Bay book Ballads & Songs of WWI.
But "Roses of Picardy," as a poem, is banal (though I'd call it better than "The Holy City"); it's yet another song about an old man remembering his wife's early beauty and saying that, unlike the roses of Picardy to which he once compared her, he still loves her:
Roses are flow'ring in Picardy, but there's never a rose like you!
And the roses will die with the summertime, and our roads may be far apart,
But there's one rose that dies not in Picardy! 'tis the rose that I keep in my heart!
Bottom line: If Fuld's attribution is correct, this seems to have been a unique item for Weatherly in style as in popularity.
Robert Gogan, 130 Great Irish Ballads (third edition, Music Ireland, 2004), p. 129, offers some additional details which do seem to confirm Fuld's report. Weatherly, an English lawyer (!), wrote the lyrics for this song in 1910, and also wrote a tune. It went nowhere. When his sister-in-law sent him the tune for the "Londonderry Air," he decided to use that tune instead, and a hit was born.
According to Reginald Nettel, Seven Centuries of Popular Song, Phoenix House, 1956, p. 220, Weatherly was an "eminent barrister," who reportedly wrote his poems while working through difficult legal problems.
Gogan adds a warning to barroom singers out there: "[This is] one of the most consistently murdered ballads I know, because amateur balladeers usually start singing it in too high a pitch for their voice[,] realizing (when it is too late) that they can't reach the high E note in the chorus. Keep that in mind; don't get caught out."
Given that the range of the song is an octave and a sixth (e.g. from the G below middle C to the E nine steps above that), little wonder that singers have trouble. I know of no traditional song requiring a wider range. - RBW
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