The fiddle tunes of William Litton, sailor

[ad name=”intheboatshed-post”]

Here’s an interesting glimpse into the distant past – a collection of tunes from a book kept by a fiddle player called William Litton while he served aboard two merchant ships in the years 1800-2. The tunes here are played by a fiddler called Garrisson Frolick, and were recorded several decades ago.

My thanks to Chris Brady for pointing out this link.

4 thoughts on “The fiddle tunes of William Litton, sailor”

  1. May I just point out, re William Litton and the recording on Internet Archive, that William Litton worked on Royal Navy vessels. The IA has it wrong. RN vessels habitually carried fiddlers – in to C20. Merchant marine vessels did not. The tune is called Garrison Frolick – as in having a good time in the garrison – and the fiddle player – not very good in my subjective opinion – is one J F Archer. Thew whole Litton archive is available from Hines Point Publishers, Vineyard Haven MA 02568. It’s got lots of tunes in!

  2. Thanks for correcting the article error….and the review of my personal playing itself. Perhaps you did not research all of my works, some of which I must admit are rather wanting in finer recording quality, but some others are rather good. I have played professionally for over 30 years.

    1. Mr Archer, sir. My abject apologies. I intended to mean the recording, not the performance. Mea culpa.
      A friend mine and I intend to put a set or two together from this collection and we have discussed how they should be performed. There is now no way of actually knowing the “performance practice” of the time. Did he mimic the violin performances of the theatre musicians he may or may not have heard on his runs ashore? Was he what we might now call a “fiddler” and embellish the tunes with ornamentation and variation such as is found in present day Irish fiddle music? Are the tunes as we see them just the bare bones – an “aide-memoire”? It was contemporary practice in “art” music to embellish – decorate and vary – the music provided by the composer. The complete hold over the music as presented on the written page didn’t fully emerge until much later in the 19th C. Shall we ever know? The Village Music Project at Salford University (UK) has a couple of interesting articles about “Social Musicians” and fiddle style.
      Just a thought!
      Again, my apologies for demeaning your playing. Keep up the good work!

      1. Steve,

        Thank you for clearing up your meaning. Pehaps I misunderstood and I have to admit I am a rather hotheaded artist. The points you make are correct about the historical aspects of fiddle playing. Litton would have had access to other places (and tunebooks) and this is a great advantage for a musician, therefore he may have picked up different versions of a particular tune. This was usually done (and still is widely done today) in an oral manner, by listening, but if it is notated it makes the job easier for musicologists to get a clearer picture of the history of the tune. Litton’s musical notation skills are not bad, but he seems to have difficulty with keys and tonalities (especially where logical accidental should occur), but this is minor.

        Fiddlers do tend to ornament a great deal and this makes for the unique art that fiddle playing is. These ornaments are usually never notated. We can only know history by what was written in those days, after that, it becomes a bit of detective work and scholarship that most practicing fiddlers tend not to undertake. There are no fiddle players that can claim they play the “authentic” version, but rather they must take a tune and often make it there own. This is a lost art today and too many fiddle players want to be a carbon copy of some famous artist, rather than be themselves. I find the whole study facinating and it compliments my baroque period studies. The playing style is often very close, but to call a violinist a fiddler was an insult in those days. To be “fiddled” was to be cheated or robbed, the culprit often using a confederate to distract people in crowds in order to pick their pockets. Other meanings can get rather coarse.

        Thank you for the clear up and keep researching. I have a great interest in what and how music was an intricate part of seamanship, but know too little about the great ships and naval history and what not. We are all always still learning something and should be prepared to share that knowledge with others for the important task of historical preservation.

        J.F. Archer

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.