Sunday, March 21, 2010

Maddy Prior: Dives And Lazarus

Today’s Spiritual Sunday song was one that I waffled on whether using it for Sunday feature or for Traditional Tuesday. Well, Sunday won out and this old English folk tune is performed by Maddy Prior, the former lead singer of Steeleye Span. “Dives and Lazarus” is based on the story of the “Rich Man and Lazarus” in Luke 16.

I love this minimalist rendition featuring Benji Kirkpatrick on guitar and Giles Lewin on the oud. The chordal structure in the middle changes nicely. Since I haven’t checked it out, I’m not sure if Kirkpatrick is using an alternate guitar tuning or not on this version in Am. Whatever tuning, his playing really makes the song.

Although the name Dives is not in the Bible, it came from the Latin word for wealthy or rich man. It is the word used in the Latin Vulgate version of the bible and became the de facto name of the songs antagonist and hence was also used in this song.

According to The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles the license for this ballad was issued in 1557 and was coauthored by Master John Wallye and Mistress Toye. It apparently gained popularity quickly as it is mentioned by John Fletcher in his 1610 play “Monsieur Thomas.” There are several versions of this song on both sides of the Atlantic.

Niles, who traveled about rural America learning traditional music, first heard “Dives and Lazarus” in 1934. He learned it from an elderly retired school teacher living in Harlan, KY, Grandmother Lottie Higgins. Higgins, who was of the Sacred Harp Shaped Note singing school of religious music, provided a rendition of the song that was not unlike this style. The Sacred Harp style was developed in the mid 19th century in the rural South. It is said that Sacred Harp singing is quite similar to English country parish singing from the 18th century. It all comes full circle.

No comments:

Post a Comment