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Alpine Fairy Music December 14, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

Fairy music is one of the least studied and yet one of the most curious parts of the world of fairy. Why are these curious beings so strongly associated with melodies? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com What is fairy music like? And do all fairy peoples in the world play the violin? Beach can’t even begin to answer most of these questions, but for the last one (distribution) he wants to share some nineteenth-century sources from the German-speaking part of the Alps, that he finds unspeakably beautiful.

Once my wife was standing before her house on a bright moonlit night, and to pass the time she looked out into the ‘world’. At once she heard in the distance a music so lovely that she had never in all her life heard anything like it, just as if the angels were playing. She went away from the house and inched, bit by bit, farther and farther, in order to hear the music better, and the farther she went the more lovely it sounded. At last my wife could no longer stand still, and she walked and walked, and came, just by hearing and listening, all the way to the mountain ravine. There she saw the people of the night travelling through the ravine as if they were in a cloister, and making such magnificent music that it seemed to the foolish woman that she could never get enough of it.

The parallels with fairy music from Britain and Ireland are there, perhaps if anything this is more seductive. Here is an unheard of detail from another late account where a tree plays music for the fairies:

Once a hunter was resting overnight under a dead tree. At midnight he awoke suddenly from his sleep and saw the night people coming toward him. And he thought, ‘one can’t be too careful’ with this kind of people, and so he walked a bit over to one side. The people of the night came closer and closer and took up positions under a small tree, and suddenly the little tree began to play delightful music. One little branch sounded as if it were playing a flute, another as if it were the clarinet, and one little twig made the sound of a small pipe. And the night people began to dance around the tree in pairs so energetically that dust rose up in the wind.

Perhaps music is just a feature of fairy society, which mimics human society in every way? In that case, why is it that fairies are responsible in Ireland, Scotland and apparently on the continent for teaching music.

Having arrived up there, he opened the door by the hay bar in the main room he saw a joyous society, who cordially invited him in to join them in eating. He thought they were tourists [!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!] and because hw as hungry he fell to with an appetite. After a while they asked him if he would like to learn to sing or play the fiddle. He said he’d rather learn to sing because he was too poor to be able to play the violin. The next morning he left this society and walked, singing and yodelling, down the mountain. And everyone came out to listen to his beautiful voice. The chief shepherd asked him, however, where he had learned to sing so beautifully all of a sudden. And the herdsman told him everything so that the shepherd grew jealous and decided that he would exploit the opportunity himself to learn to play the violin.

This, of course, is not going to end well: the wicked shepherd was found ‘bearing the deep impression of a violin on his chest’. Beach knows stories where pipers get their gift from the fairies from the gaelic-speaking world. He also knows stories where greedy unpleasant people get their just deserts when they ask for boons from the fairies. But he knows no other example where the motifs are combined in this way.