Songs in Scotland: The Fanaid Grove

In my more recent trips to Scotland, I have done recordings of Celtic music--mostly Scottish--and medieval pieces at Scottish sites.  These are presented as a somewhat fun and different way of combining clips showing places in Scotland that I researched for my books, with Scottish music. 

The Location:

I played this piece in the thick foliage lining the banks of Hermitage Water.  This relatively small stream runs along the south side of Hermitage Castle (video here), one-time home of the Bad Lord Soulis, and the nearby ruins of the chapel.  The location I played at is directly south of the chapel ruins.

Hermitage Castle is a fascinating place--a large, brooding, gray block, according to many estimations, and itself somewhat in ruins, although the walls remain strong and high.  

Lord Soulis, a contemporary, and acquaintance, of the Bruce, was reputed to deal in all sorts of dark arts.  It is why Simon Beaumont, the evil medieval madman of The Blue Bells Chronicles, goes to visit Hermitage.  He hopes to find something left there that will help him return to his own time.

This particular trip to Scotland actually sprang from my frustration with trying to get a clear image of Hermitage and its ruins and the Cout of Kielder's grave, from online research.  So I had read quite a bit about it before going there.  I was very curious what I would find there, as it has a reputation for ghostliness, and it is said that the cries of Lord Soulis's victims can still be heard there.

I myself found it to be a beautiful place, incredibly solitary, beautiful, wild, and very, very peaceful.  Although, somewhere in my collection of photographs, I do have a picture I snapped from outside the castle, of one of the upper windows--which can't be reached from the stairs--and there does appear to be a dark shape of a man looking out and watching me.

The video is filmed just about a quarter mile from the castle, immediately south of the chapel ruins.  What do you think?  Does it seem like a peaceful place or one where you might hear the Wicked Lord Soulis's victims?

The Song:

This particular piece is actually an Irish air, called The Fanaid Grove.  I chose it, I suppose because I was in a grove-like setting and I often tried to match the song, in some way to the setting.

The Fanaid Grove is the sad tale of a young girl betrayed and abandoned by her wealthy lover, and thrown out into the snow with her new baby, by her parents.  The best information I've found on its background is that Herbert Hughes, the editor of Irish County Songs, Vol I, published in 1909, attributes the piece to County Donegal, where Fanad Heath is a northern peninsula.

Like many old songs, it has many variations and has been known by many names, including It Was in the Month of January, The Outcast Mother, The Fatal Snowstorm, and A Wintry Evening.

One version goes like this:

It was in the month of January, the hills all clad with snow,
It was over hills and valleys my true love he did go.
It was there I met a pretty young girl with a salt tear in her eye,
She had a baby in her arms and bitter she did cry.

“Oh, cruel was my father that he barred the door to me,
And cruel was my mother, that dreadful crime to see.

Cruel was my own true love that he changed his mind for gold,
And cruel was that winter's night that pierced my heart with cold.”

For the taller that the palm tree grows, oh, the sweeter is the bark,
And the fairer that a young man speaks, oh, the falser is his heart.
Oh, he'll kiss you and embrace you till he thinks he has you won;
Then he'll go away and leave you all for some other one.

Come all you pretty fair maids, a warning take by me
And never try to build your nest on top of a high tree;
For the leaves they will all wither and the branches all decay
And the beauties of a false young man will all soon fade away

The version in my book:

'Twas on a winter's evening, when first came down the snow
O'er hills and lofty mountains the stormy winds did blow;
A damsel she came tripping down all in a drift of snow
With a baby in her snow-white arms she knew not where to go.

Hard-hearted was my father that shut the door on me,
And more so was my mother for plainly she did see
That dark and stormy was the night, it pierced my heart with cold
And cruel was that false young man that sold his love for gold

Unto a quiet grove she went and there did she kneel down,
Turning her eyes to heaven, in sorrow she made to moan
She kissed her baby's cold, cold lips and laid it by her side
And in that silent Fanaids grove in lonely grief she died.

If things like modes get you excited (and let's be honest--why wouldn't they?) then you will be excited to know this is a beautiful song in the 'soh mode.'  Now, as I've only been involved in music for, oh, decades, I'm not ashamed to admit I had never heard of the soh mode.  A quick search, however, quickly turned up the information that this is soh as in do-re-mi-fa-soh--which I have always seen written as so or sol.  

Regardless, so/soh/sol being the fifth step of the major scale, this means The Fanaid Grove is in what's more commonly known as mixolydian mode--a 'scale' built on the fifth step of a major scale.  One thing I have found in researching not only medieval history, but medieval music, is that older music seems to use more modes than we do today.  We stick pretty much to major and minor (Ionian and Aeolian).  However, there is a mode for each step of the scale--and Plato believed that music written in each mode had a distinct impact on the emotions.  

Mixolydian is one of the brighter and more cheerful modes.  Hey, why not a bright and cheerful mode for the tale of a young woman freezing to death with her baby.  If you want a really cheerful song about death, try The Wearing of the Green.  I've never felt so happy as the days I've listened to or played this lively piece--and then I read the lyrics!  Really?  This happy tune is about hanging men and women for the wearing of the green?!  Yes...yes, it is.

But I digress.  Somehow, it sounds to me like a more melancholic tune and the version I'm playing is definitely in G Major, not mixolydian.

If digging into songs, music, and music history intrigues you, here are some sources on this piece and modes:

Modes and Moods: a forum discussion

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If you liked this post you might also like:
What Happened on Palm Sunday
or other posts under the MEDIEVAL HISTORY and HISTORICAL RESEARCH labels.

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