Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund

 

 

The Carrion Crow - (2010)    

Anonymous

for baritone or bass and piano


 

The carrion crow sat upon an oak,
To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee
Watching the tailor mending his cloak,
To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee.
    Hey fo lee fo la fo lerum,
    Hey fo lee fo lerum lee,
    Up jumps John, ringing on his bell,
    To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee.

Wife fetch me my old bent bow,
To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee,
I will shoot the carrion crow,
To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee.
    Hey fo lee fo la fo lerum,
    Hey fo lee fo lerum lee,
    Up jumps John, ringing on his bell,
    To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee.

He shot the crow but he missed his mark,
To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee,
He shot the old sow to the heart,
To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee.
    Hey fo lee fo la fo lerum,
    Hey fo lee fo lerum lee,
    Up jumps John, ringing on his bell,
    To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee.

Wife, fetch brandy in a spoon,
To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee,
Our old sow, she's in a swoon,
To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee.

He dragged the old sow to the house,
To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee,
There they fed her tatties in sauce,
To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee.

The old sow died and the bells did toll,
The little pigs prayed for the old sow's soul.
    Hey fo lee fo la fo lerum,
    Hey fo lee fo lerum lee,
    Up jumps John, ringing on his bell,
    To me ring dong dilly dong ky-ro-lee.

[ 6 pages, circa 3' 20" ]


 

Carrion is putrefying flesh, and that species of crow which especially feeds on this is named aptly thus. The personification of the crow into man comes easily, as man too "feeds" off of other men, in many ways. For this the Ainsworth text mentions priests and soldiers, while others mention lawyers and government types. There are numerous variations on this theme, with its nonsense refrains adding delight to a dark little story. One version of this comes from ridicule of Charles II of England, a monarch of "voracious appetite, because he deprived the puritan clergy of their livings; perhaps, also, because he ordered the bodies of the regicides to be exhumed." W. H. Ainsworth (1805-1882) notes, "The carrion crow is a sexton bold, / He raketh the dead from out of the mould."  [ 1 ]   An earlier English poet,  T. L. Beddoes (1803-1818), published his poem unrelated to a specific comment on monarchy and aristocracy, but of the same dark humor. [ 2 ]   Subsequent versions add various nonsense syllables and refrains, as does this one. The tale extends into the end game of unintended consequences which do not harm the carrion crow itself, but other creatures. [ 3 ]

 

 

The setting opens brightly as if in F major, though the mood shifts to the relative minor after a refrain and two verses being introduced in F major, the remainder linger on the darker D minor. The nonsense lyrics mention "ky-ro-lee," which echoes Beddoes' reference to "the raven of Cairo."

 

 

This refrain (and others in other versions of the poem) is repeated with each stanza of other musical versions, but in the later verses, I run elide stanzas' sense to further the speed of the storytelling.

 

 

The score is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.

 

The Carrion Crow

                    


NOTES

 

[ 1 ]    The William Harrison Ainsworth text is found in Lancashire Lyrics:

The carrion crow is a sexton bold,
He raketh the dead from out of the mould ;
He delveth the ground like a miser old,
Stealthily hiding his store of gold.
Caw ! caw!

The carrion crow hath a coat of black,
Silky and sleek, like a priest's, to his back ;
Like a lawyer he grubbeth — no matter what way —
The fouler the ofifal, the richer his prey.
Caw ! caw ! the carrion crow I
Dig! dig! in the ground below !

The carrion crow hath a dainty maw,
With savoury pickings he crammeth his craw ;
Kept meat from the gibbet it pleaseth his whim,
It never can hang too long for him !
Caw ! caw!

The carrion crow smelleth powder, 'tis said,
Like a soldier escheweth the taste of cold lead ;
No jester or mime hath more marvellous wit,
For wherever he lighteth he maketh a hit !
Caw ! caw ! the carrion crow !
Dig! dig! in the ground below !

[ 2 ]     The Beddoes text is is a song within a play, sung in a charnel-house, and titled "Old Adam, the Carrion Crow:"

Old Adam, the carrion crow,
The old crow of Cairo;
He sat in the shower, and let it flow
Under his tail and over his crest;
And through every feather
Leak'd the wet weather;
And the bough swung under his nest;
For his beak it was heavy with marrow.
Is that the wind dying? O no;
It's only two devils, that blow,
Through a murderer's bones, to and fro,
In the ghosts' moonshine.

Ho! Eve, my grey carrion wife,
When we have supped on king's marrow,
Where shall we drink and make merry our life?
Our nest it is queen Cleopatra's skull,
'Tis cloven and crack'd,
And batter'd and hack'd,
But with tears of blue eyes it is full:
Let us drink then, my raven of Cairo!
Is that the wind dying? O no;
It's only two devils, that blow
Through a murderer's bones, to and fro,
In the ghosts' moonshine.

[ 3 ]    Yet another version of a traditional folk song style is as follows:

An old crow sat upon an oak,
Derry, derry derry, dayco.
An old crow sat upon an oak,
Watching a tailor sew a coat.
Sing hi-ho carrion crow,
Derry, derry derry day co.

Oh wife bring me my old bent bow,
Derry, derry, derry, day co.
Wife bring me my old bent bow,
That I may shoot yon carrion crow.
Sing hi-ho carrion crow,
Derry, derry derry, day co.

The tailor shot and he missed his mark,
Derry, derry, derry day co.
The tailor shot and he missed his mark,
He shot his old sow through the heart.
Sing hi-ho carrion crow,
Derry, derry, derry day co.

The old sow died and the bells did toll,
Derry, derry derry day co.
The old sow died and the bells did toll,
The little pigs prayed for the old sow's soul.
Hi ho carrion crow,
Derry, derry derry, day co.