Thursday, 14 August 2014

Aaand, I'm back after six months or so in near-hibernation. So, back to the Child Ballads. Yesterday, I investigated Little Sir Hugh, or The Jew's Garden (Child 155), initially from the Peggy Seeger arrangement The Fatal Flower Garden, then versions by Cecilia Costello, Sam Lee and Steeleye Span. The macabre Lincoln-set tale of the murder of a child, there was far more to this tune than one might initially think - a bit of background reading reveals that this song was depressingly symptomatic of anti-Semitic sentiments around about the 13th and 14th centuries - these feelings reaching their apotheosis in the Edict of Expulsion of 1290. The story goes thus: a bunch of young children lose their ball in a nearby garden, and one of their number is sent to retrieve it. When in the garden, the young boy is lured inside the house by the daughter of the titular Jew (or the gypsy, in the case of the Peggy Seeger version) by the promise of fruit and jewels, and is promptly stabbed to death when he falls asleep. After death, and after having Bibles placed at his head and feet, he sends a message to his parents to reassure them. This is apparently based on a true story, whereby a young boy (Little Saint Hugh, whose sainthood has apparently since been revoked) was either stabbed by a Jew and dumped down a well, or simply fell down a well and was subsequently used as a pawn by several anti-Semitic factions who went on to implicate several dozen local Jews in the boy's murder, claiming larger involvement in ritualistic killing. It may be coincidence that when Jewish people were convicted of any crime, their assets immediately went to the state, and that the evidence was specious at best. Nonetheless, the first man arrested (Copin) was later put to death, and of the ninety or so Jews implicated and held in the Tower of London, eighteen were hanged for refusing to co-operate. Plus ├ža change. The melody I added to the tune (after hearing several wildly differing interpretations) was a simple descending, hymn-like figure in B major, the sense of dread and foreboding hopefully being accentuated by the gravitational pull of the melody.

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