Of Potential Interest to Folk Music Scholars

 I happened to stumble across the following document in the course of my research into the influence of Henry VI on the linguistics of personal correspondence.  I at once recognized its importance to those who study the traditional music of the British Isles, and so, after translation by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, I hasten to share it.

Honored Sir: We have fulfilled your commission to the best of our abilities, as witness the accompanying parcel. I must confess, however, that we are not entirely satisfied with the result. I beg to submit that the problem lies, not in the quality of our work, but in the instrument itself. To speak to the particulars.

Primus: You should be aware that the resonant qualities of breastbone are significantly inferior to the timbre, sustain, and richness of tone that are characteristic of spruce, walnut, cherry, &c.

Secundus: Perhaps the original luthier naively failed to realize that harps customarily use strings of varying thickness? The strings supplied, while quite an attractive color, are of identical gauge, which means they require drastically different degrees of tension to produce notes covering the desired range. This is especially troublesome in light of the next problem.

Tertius: Fingerbones are far too brittle & irregular to make effective tuning pegs. We have strengthened the bones with several coats of resin & some Sugru(tm), but precise tuning is not to be had from them.

In sum, while the instrument should be playable, I fear it will have a very limited repertoire.  Still, we have done our best, & can only hope that you are satisfied. We are returning the instrument in a wood & leathern case, at no additional cost to you, in hopes that the harp will be less temperamental if it is protected from the dreadful wind & the rain.


Thomas Corby

Messrs Corby & Corby, Luthiers

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I play the drum.

14 thoughts on “Of Potential Interest to Folk Music Scholars”

  1. *dies and is ded* (Do not make another harp like that. I think a little scrimshaw box would be much better. It could yell, “Steve did it!” when opened.)

  2. Quite possibly also information that conservators of the instruments associated with one Erich Zahn need to pay attention to. (Paging C. Stross…)

  3. It’s funny to think that people would think that things like that could be overlooked. The harp is one of the oldest instruments made – you’d think they’d know by then that those things were inferior. This made me chuckle.

    I’d like to add that I am not, or ever pretend to be, anything remotely resembling a music expert of any degree. I just love quirky little footnotes to history.

  4. I’ve heard the song before, but didn’t know all of the lyrics. It wasn’t exactly the fingerbone part that made me laugh of the above letter. It was the entire list of complaints to someone who you’d think should be an expert on how to make them.

  5. Henry VI? Not my area of expertise. However, I recently found the following in an archive of Henry VIII’s personal correspondence, and thought it might be of interest.

    18 June 1516

    Dear Sir,

    Thank you for the ſubmiſſion of your tune “Greenſleeves” to the Knightſbridge Jongleur’s Quarterly. While we enjoyed your uſe of the minor melodic ſcale, in the end this piece juſt didn’t quite hold our intereſt and ſo we are going to paſs on it. Pleaſe keep us in mind, however, for ſubſequent compoſitions.

  6. Doxies Without Smocksies! The royalties go to royalty. I must confess I’d never heard Flanders & Swann (or even heard of them) before; but now I am enlightened.

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