A popular chorus song. The words of Sweet Nightingale were first published in Robert Bell's Ancient Poems of the Peasantry of England, 1857, with the note:
“This curious ditty—said to be a translation from the ancient Cornish tongue… we first heard in Germany… The singers were four Cornish miners, who were at that time, 1854, employed at some lead mines near the town of Zell. The leader, or captain, John Stocker, said that the song was an established favourite with the lead miners of Cornwall and Devonshire, and was always sung on the pay-days and at the wakes; and that his grandfather, who died 30 years before at the age of a hundred years, used to sing the song, and say that it was very old.” Unfortunately Bell failed to get a copy either of words or music from these miners, and relied in the end on a gentleman of Plymouth who “was obliged to supply a little here or there, but only when a bad rhyme, or rather none at all, made it evident what the real rhyme was. I have read it over to a mining gentleman at Truro, and he says it is pretty near the way we sing it.”
The tune most people sing was collected by Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould from E.G. Stevens of St. Ives, Cornwall.
Sweet Nightingale is in The Full English Folk Chorus Songs Pack. One type of song that has remained popular across English speaking traditions is the chorus song. These are often led by one singer (in a pub, for example) with the community joining in with the repeated chorus, refrain or burden. This can be simple unison or improvised harmonies of varying levels of complexity. You can hear (and join in with) chorus songs in many folk clubs, singarounds, concerts and festivals.
The The Full English Folk Chorus Songs Pack is available from the PDF tab at the top of this panel, and contains some well-known chorus songs to provide some starting points for social singing from The Full English digital archive. Due to their popularity many of these songs are geographically widespread and may appear in many versions with all kinds of variation in words and melody. An Audio recording of this song is available for free download from the Audio tab at the top of the panel. It has been recorded by Ben Moss and Laurel Swift (www.benandlaurel.com).
The other songs in the pack are:
- The Barley Mow (Harry Albino Collection)
- Fathom The Bowl (Clive Carey Collection)
- Young Banker (Percy Grainger/Frank Kidson Collections)
- Pleasant and Delightful (Collinson Collection)
- The Farmer’s Boy (Lucy Broadwood Collection)
- Abroad for Pleasure (Lucy Broadwood Collection)
Note that these links take you to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website which holds the full archival details of the material. Material on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website is not censored or expurgated and may contain material considered offensive by modern standards.