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The Wandering Ballad – Song no. 5: Fair Annie

This is the fifth in a series of blogs about the songs on our new CD “The Wandering Ballad”.

With Fair Annie we return to the story of the poor Anna/Annie/La Freine. (See “Les Tristes Noces” and “Skön Anna”)

This Child ballad describes the moment Annie’s longtime lover tells her he is going to marry someone else. Annie is after all only a simple girl, and though they have seven sons these sons are not legitimate since he never got around to marry her. Now, since he is after all a nobleman he is going to find himself a real lady …

“Learn to make you bed Annie

and learn to lie alone

for I’m going over the salt seas,

a fair lady to bring home

With her I’ll get gold and gear,

with you I never got none;

I took you as a waif woman,

and I leave you as the same.

But she that welcomes my brisk bride,

must look maiden-like;

she must comb down her yellow locks,

and lay them in her neck.”

“But how can I look maiden-like,

when maiden I am not?

Have I not born seven sons to thee,

and am with child again?

The first one of your sons, my lord,

could be heir of all your lands,

the second of your sons, my lord,

could stand at your right hand.

The third one of your sons, my lord,

he serves your beer and wine,

and the fourth of your sons, my lord,

he serves you when you dine.

The fifth one of your sons, my lord,

he can both read and write,

and the sixth one of your sons, my lord,

he does it well and right

The seventh of your sons, my lord,

sits on the nurse’s knee,

and how can I look maiden-like

when a maid I’ll never be?”

“Bind up, bind up your yellow hair

and tie it in your neck,

and see that you look as maiden-like

as the first day that we met.”

“Oh I’ll put roses in my hair,

and ribbons in my comb,

and I will look as maiden-like

as the bride that you bring home.”

It is all terribly unfair and as the listener we sympathize with Annie who is now, not only abandoned, but will need to welcome the new bride into the house she has shared with her man and their sons for so many years.

Annie serves at the wedding; she even makes the bridal bed. But once the newlyweds retire, Annie sits down outside their bedroom door and sings her story. Loudly. Until the new bride begins to suspect this sad lady is more than a servant to her new husband …

The ending of the ballad varies. In some variants the nobleman regrets his actions and is forgiven, in some he is not forgiven but cursed by both Annie and the bride. In many variants it turns out Annie and the new bride are sisters and the sister leaves but leaves her dowry with Annie. In one Scandinavian variant the mother of the nobleman helps Annie, tells her to go to the wedding with all her sons and create a scene…

Again the soap operas come to mind. We get to explore deep emotions and a winding storyline.

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