[SCA-Dance] Black Almain question/speculation

Alex Clark alexbclark at pennswoods.net
Sat Mar 15 10:35:35 EDT 2008

At 08:22 AM 3/14/2008 -0700, Jeff Suzuki wrote:
>I'm trying to wrap my mind around something, and the
>questions about ECD evolution suggest some of you
>folks might have some insight into this...and it might
>have some connection with the ECD evolution.
>The Black Almain is one of the many pieces of music
>that have contrafacts written for them.  The
>difficulty is that the contrafacts don't quite match
>the music.
>The one I'm looking at in particular is the one from
>Yahoo! Mail - jeff_suzuki at yahoo.comhtml#n71

Does that URL have a bunch of extraneous Yahoo! Mail stuff inserted near 
the end? It isn't working for me, and my best guess at what it was supposed 
to link to is:

But I'm not sure what you mean by "contrafact". Was this ballad published 
together with such a tune? Or was I looking at the wrong page?

>(but "Maid, Will You Marry" from "Handful of Pleasant
>Delights" has the same pattern).
>The ballad is dated 1571, and works for the first part
>of the music (up to and including the first set and
>turn), and if the dance ended there, it would be fine.
>It seems there are one of two possibilities:
>1)  The dance Black Almain (which is documented ca.
>1600) is an "extended" version of a dance extant in
>the 1570s (alternatively, it is two dances, welded
>together), or
>2)  The author of the contrafact ignored 1/3 of the
>music, or
>In support of #1, it seems to me that Black Almain has
>certain features not present in other almains, but (to
>relate this to the ECD discussion) present in ECD: in
>particular, the set and turn, and the skipping down
>the hall.

The lyrics of this ballad may have only enough lines to go to part of the 
tune we dance the Black Alman to, only through the third strain (the set 
and turn), but the rhymes and meter tell a different story. The first four 
lines fit the first strain, while the next two lines rhyme with each other 
and scan to the second strain (if one ends every four-beat phrase with a 
single note for the last two beats), and the next two lines also rhyme with 
each other and scan to the third strain. Finally, the last four lines fit 
the fourth strain.

Comparing that pattern with the tune, I find that every time the lyrics 
don't have enough lines for the tune, the tune has what could be considered 
to be extra repeats. The second strain is basically the same phrase (four 
beats long) played twice, except that the first time through that phrase 
the last note is broken up into four shorter notes; if one plays the whole 
strain twice (as is usual for dancing), that four-beat phrase repeats, in 
one form or the other, a total of four times. Similarly, the second half of 
the third strain is a variation on the first half thereof. And the fifth 
strain, which doesn't seem to go with anything in the lyrics, amounts to 
additional repeats of the last half of the fourth strain.

So my best guess is that our dance tune has more repeats built into it 
relative to the strains of music that the ballad was written for. As for 
whether the ballad was sung with some lines of the lyrics repeated, or 
without the extra repeats of the music, or otherwise, I would not care to 

Henry of Maldon/Alex Clark 

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