Variations on Springfield Mountain

for flute and piano

These lively variations, based on one of America’s oldest folk songs, retell the story of the young couple who die of snake poison; an ironic twist is given to the ending.

short excerpt:

View/download score and part (formatted for double-sided printing)

“Springfield Mountain” is an American folk song based on a true story. On 7 August 1761 Timothy Myrick of Springfield Mountain (now Wilbra­ham), Massachusetts, was bitten by a snake and died before reaching home. According to western Massachusetts custom, an elegy was composed and sung to the tune of a hymn. The song eventually acquired a tune of its own. By 1840 it was well known as “The Pesky Sarpint, a pathetic ballad” and was sung on stage.

In my piece the melody is presented at the beginning in pseudo-classical manner. The following variations are “free”, as they are based on fragments of the theme rather than on the theme as a whole. On the other hand, they are also program music since they re-tell the story described by the text:

On Springfield Mountain there did dwell
A lovely youth, I knew him well-eye-ell.
Ray goo too day noo-ay, ray too dee noo-ay,
Too dee nay hoo-ee, too dee noo.

This lovely youth one day did go
Down to the meadow for to mow-eye-owe.

He scarce had moved quite round the field
When a pesky sarpint bit his heel-eye-eel.

They took him home to Molly dear,
Which made her feel so very queer, I hear.

Now Molly had two ruby lips
With which the pizen she did sip-eye-ip.

Now Molly had a rotten tooth,
And so the pizen killed them both-eye-oth.

The variations describe (in purely musical terms) the carefree youth sauntering across the field, the snake slithering up from deep in the grass, and the collision of the two; the yelping and howling youth on his way home; Molly’s attempt to calm and rescue him as the poison gradually does them both in; and the funeral procession. Since a funeral march seemed an inauspicious way to end the music, I added an extension and postlude based on the following apocryphal verse:

While bickering heirs and neighbors fight,
Our lovers bask in heavenly light, oh right!