The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes

By Peter Opie; Iona Opie | Go to book overview

The Singing Tradition of Nursery Rhymes

CECILY RAYSOR HANCOCK

Not all but a great many nursery rhymes are or have been songs, or fragments of songs, besides those that were collected or written as rhymes and acquired tunes later, either by adoption or by composition expressly for them. More of these tunes are available with very moderate searching than many people realize. There are also tunes that were printed with the words before the collection of nursery rhymes--some still in circulation, others dormant, the rhyme having perpetuated itself only as a rhyme rather than as both rhyme and song.

Before giving advice to people looking for tunes it may be worth saying that most books of nursery songs are intended for use with young children. They are quite short and limited to the youngest songs, and often contain other material for the same age, sometimes including copyrighted contributions by the editors, often new tunes to rhymes that already have good tunes. One can thus get a false first impression of the number of surviving tunes. Sir Percy Buck The Oxford Nursery Song Book ( 1933) and Walter Crane The Baby's Bouquet ( 1877) and The Baby's Opera ( 1879) are good places to start. ( The Baby's Opera has been in print for a long time and is beginning to be reprinted or partially reprinted under titles that do not sound infantile to children, who cannot be expected to recognize a reference to The Beggar's Opera. Look under Walter Crane, the name of the illustrator. The musical editor, Walter's sister Lucy Crane, is acknowledged only in her brother's article on her in the Dictionary of National Biography.) More recent large collections that may be found in the children's section of a public library are useful too. Most of them are heavily, but not entirely, dependent on the Cranes or, in the United States, on the original compositions of J. W. Elliott. Alison McMorland The Funny Family ( 1976) is a newer collection from people who sang the songs, with two exceptions; the sources are given.

The titles of many early nursery-rhyme books call the rhymes songs or suggest singing but give only rhymes, and many books that do have tunes do not make this clear in their titles. Any of

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The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface to the Second Edition v
  • Nursery Rhyme Books Since 1951 vi
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Contents xvii
  • List of Illustrations xix
  • Abbreviations xxvi
  • Introduction 1
  • The Singing Tradition of Nursery Rhymes 44
  • Nursery Rhymes 53
  • An Index of Notable Figures Associated with the Invention, Diffusion, or Illustration of Nursery Rhymes 535
  • Index of First Lines 543
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