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.
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!