Rare Willy drowned in Yarrow

Music: Marg Hall. Words: Trad. Anon
performance time approx 2m 00s
Range S1: d' – f'' / S2: b – d'' / A: g – b'♭
Price code: C
Complexity: ***

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This exciting arrangement of a Scots ballad lifts it out of folk tradition into something much more modern. Chromatic harmonies and shifts in tonality give it both urgency and poignancy, and the ABCBA structure lends a satisfying symmetry.

According to Wilma Paterson in her excellent book Songs of Scotland, “There is no historical evidence of a specific tragedy linked to this song, but Sir Walter Scott believed that it referred to John Scott, sixth son of the Laird of Harden, who was murdered by his kinsmen, the Scotts of Gilmancleugh, in Ettrick Forest. There is also a tradition that the hero was murdered by the brother either of his wife or his betrothed wife.”

This piece was written for the Hadley Court Singers, Haddington, Scotland.

Glossary and pronunciation guide included.


Willy's rare and Willy's fair
And Willy's wondrous bonny
And Willy heght tae marry me
Gin e'er he married ony.

Yestreen I made my bed fu' braid,
The night I'll make it narrow
For a' the livelong winter's night
I lie twin'd o' my marrow.

O cam' you by the waterside,
Pu'd you the rose or lily?
Or cam' you by yon meadow green?
Or saw you my sweet Willy?

She sought him east, she sought him west,
She sought him braid and narrow.
Sine in the clifting of a craig
She found him drowned in Yarrow.


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