Four and Twenty Fiddlers
DESCRIPTION: "Four and twenty fiddlers all in a row ... [nonsense]. It is my lady's holiday therefore let us be merry." Four and twenty drummers, trumpeters, coblers, ... Quakers: "Abraham begat Isaac and Isaac begat Jacob ... [nonsense] It is my lady's holiday ...."
AUTHOR: Thomas D'Urfey (1653-1723) (see NOTES)
EARLIEST DATE: 1719 (_Wit and Mirth ..._ or _Songs Compleat ..._)
KEYWORDS: work music cumulative nonballad nonsense Bible
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South))
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Reeves-Circle 45, "Four and Twenty Fiddlers" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: [Thomas d'Urfey,] Wit and Mirth, or, Pills to Purge Melancholy (London, 1719), Vol III, pp. 61-62, A Song ("Four and twenty Fidlers all in a Row") (1 text, 1 tune); also as d'Urfey, Songs Compleat, Pleasant and Divertive Set to Musick (London, 1719), Vol III, pp. 61-62, A Song ("Four and twenty Fidlers all in a Row") (1 text, 1 tune)
The Vocal Library: Being the Largest Collection of English, Scottish and Irish Songs Ever Printed in a Single Volume, (London, 1822 [according to Google] ("Digitized by Google")), p. 399, "Four and Twenty Fiddlers" (1 text)
Bodleian, Harding B 25(679) [some words illegible; for a clearer copy see _The Vocal Library_], "Four and Twenty Fidlers" ("Four and twenty fidlers all of a row"), J. Pitts (London), 1802-1819
NOTES: In France the ballet was popular at the courts of Henri IV, Louis XIII, and Louis XIV. That popularity led, under Louis XIII, to the formation of the "band of 24 violins of the King's chamber." "Their functions were to play for the dancing at all the court-balls, as well as to perform airs, minuets, and rigadoons, in the King's antechamber, during his lever and public dinner, on New Year's Day, May 1, the King's fete-day, and on his return from the war, or from Fontainebleau. [The band] continued to exist till 1761, when Louis XV dissolved it" (Crouquet, p. 279).
Charles II, in exile at the court of France, "became enamoured of French manners and French music." When he returned to England, in imitation of Louis XIV, he established his own band of violins (Hawkins, p. 703). This is supposedly the innovation that inspired D'Urfey's "Four and twenty fiddlers all in a row" (Walcott, p. 46). Before that time "the fiddle was not allowed to be a concert instrument" in England (P.T.W., p. 210).
D'Urfey's song "used to be performed between the acts or between the play and farce, by some man of humour at benefits" (P.T.W., p. 210). The idea that D'Urfey intended to satirize the King's band persisted long afterwards (e.g., van der Straeten, p. 845). Walcott writes (p. 46) that the effect of D'Urfey's song was that the king withdrew his new music."
Rimbault (p. 282) has a different view: "Mr Walcott tells the reader that Tom D'Urfey made his song, beginning 'Four-and-twenty fiddlers,' on the occasion of the introduction of this instrumental band into the Chapel Royal! Now, I venture to say that the writer never read the song in question. He could not have done so, or he would not have made so rash a statement. D'Urfey's song had nothing whatever to do with the royal band except in name. It is a mere tissue of absurd nonsense, without the slightest wit or fun. It contains no sting of any kind: the opening lines alone mentions fiddlers, the rest of the song relates to cobblers, tailors, tinkers, and a variety of trades. He tells us that the royal band was withdrawn from the chapel in consequence of this song! Never was a statement more unfortunate. We have evidence to show that Purcell and Blow continued to write their anthems with instrumental accompaniments, and that they were performed in the Chapel Royal down to the end of the king's reign, and even far on into that of his successor."
In 1660, when Charles's reign began, Charles was 30 and d'Urfey was 7 years old.
We have d'Urfey's text printed in 1719, 34 years after Charles's reign ended. Was the "sting", if there ever was one, removed from that text? Someone may find something meaningful in what I consider "nonsense" in the description by examining the final cumulative verse. Each [occupation to be found in a row] is followed by the description attributed to that occupation. Since I have texts from d'Urfey in 1719, The Vocal Library in 1822, and Reeves-Circle in 1906 it may also be useful to see how the text changed.
-- d'Urfey (1719):
[Dutchmen] a list of Dutch names: "Alter Malter Van tor Dyken Skapen Kopen de Hogue, Van Rottyck, ...
[Parliament men] Loyalty and Reason without a word of Treason
[ventners] Claret and white, I ne'er drunk worse in mky life, and excellent good Canary drawn off the lees of sherry if you do not like it
[lawyers] Omne quod exit in um damno sed plus damno decorum ...
[Fencing masters] this and that, and down to the legs clap, sir, [singing men] fa la la la ...
[women] tittle tattle, and twice prattle prattle
[tabors and pipers] whif and dub
[drummers] and there was tan tarra rama, tan, tan, tan tarra rama
[Four and twenty Fidlers all in a Row] fiddle fiddle, and twice fiddle fiddle, Cause twas my Lady's Birthday, Therefore we kept Holiday And all went to be merry").
-- The Vocal Library (1822):
"Four and twenty Quakers all on a row, there was Abraham begat Isaac and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob peopled the twelve tribes of Israel
[barbers] with bag wigs, short bobs, toupees, long queues, shave for a penny; O curs'd hard times, two ruffles and never a shirt
[tailors] one caught a louse, another let it loose, and another cried knock him down with a goose
[parsons] Lord have mercy upon us
[captains] O curse him kick him down stairs
[fencing masters] push carte, and tierce down at heel, cut him across
[coblers] stab awl and cobler, and cobler stab awl
[trumpeters] tantara rara tantara rara
[drummers] hey rub a dub, ho rub a dub
[fiddlers] fiddle faddle fiddle, and my damme semi quibble down below. It is my lady's holiday, there fore be merry"
-- Reeves-Circle (1906):
"Four and twenty apostles all of a row, Abram begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, Jacob begot the twelve tribes of Israel
[barbers] devilish hard time, shave twice for one penny
[priesties] two ruffles to every shirt
[pensioners] push dirk cut a-cross
[tailors] one caught a louse, t'other let him loose, t'other cried 'knock him down with a goose'
[cobblers] cobbler, cobbler, stab awl, tantarero, tantarero
[tinkers] hoo rub-a-dub! hey rub-a-dub!
[fiddlers] fiddle fiddle faddle, semi semi quaver, down below, it is my lady's holiday so let us be merry."
Only the fiddlers are in all three lists, while fencing masters, drummers, barbers, cobblers and tailors are on two of the lists.
Incidentally, as in "A Bundle of Truths" "A tailor's goose will never fly": a "tailor's goose" is a flat iron with a twisted wrought iron grip. And, as for the relation between tailor and louse see the notes to "Tailor and Louse."
Roud lists D'Urfey and Kinloch twice, as Roud #20211 and Roud #1036, and seems to have somehow confounded "Four and Twenty Tailors" with this song. Other than "Four and Twenty [something]," I don't see a connection. - BS
The story of Abraham begetting Isaac is in Genesis 20-21, the tale of Isaac begetting Jacob and Esau is in Genesis 25, and the children of Jacob are born in Genesis 29 and following. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.7
- Crouquet: M Goustave Crouquet, "Vingt-Quatre Violons" in J.A. Fuller Maitland, editor, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, The Macmillan Company, 1910 ("Digitized by Google"), Vol. V.
- Hawkins: John Hawkins, General History of the Science and Practice of Music, J Alfred Novello, 1853 ("Digitized by Google"), Vol. II.
- P.T.W.: P.T.W., "Another Old Song: Origin of the song "Four and Twenty Fiddlers all on a Row" in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction ,J Limbird, 1831 (Digitized by Google"), Vol. XVII, No. 482, Saturday, March 26, 1831.
- Rimbault: Edward F Rimbault, "Henry Purcell: the Chapel Royal" in Notes and Queries, 1868 ("Digitized by Google"), Third Series, Vol. XII, No 302, October 12, 1867.
- van der Straeten: E. van der Straeten, "The Haslemere Festival" in The Musical Times ,1931 (available online by JSTOR), Vol. LXXII, No. 1063, Sep 1, 1931.
- Walcott: Mackenzie E.C. Walcott, Westminster: Memorials of the City, Saint Peter's College, the Parish Churches, Palaces, Streets, and Worthies ,Joseph Masters, 1849 ("Digitized by Google").
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