Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Danny Deever” dates from 1890, and it was soon set by several composers. Walter Damrosch’s version became very popular, in part thanks to its introduction by one of the first of America’s great song singers, David Bispham. “Danny Deever” was reportedly Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite song.
The audio recording, provided in the audio player to the right, features Thomas Hampson, baritone, and Craig Rutenberg, piano. This song was recorded for Instant Encore as part of American Public Media's Performance Today series, presented by Classical Minnesota Public Radio. To listen, please click on the track name itself. You can download a recording of this entire recital for free through the Instant Encore website with the download code: THSOA2009.
Rudyard Kipling, the Nobel Prize-winning English writer best known for The Jungle Book, wrote the poem "Danny Deever" which was first published in the Scots Observer in 1890. Two years later, the poem was published in a collection of Kipling's works, entitled Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses. Kipling's poem describes the hanging of Danny Deever, a British combatant sentenced to death for murdering another soldier. It consists of verses written in a two-part conversational style, a trait associated with the English ballad.
"Danny Deever" was the subject of many musical settings, including those by Gerard F. Cobb, Harold Dixon, Percy Grainger, Oscar Haase, W. Ward-Higgs, and Arthur Whiting. However, it is Walter Damrosch's rendition of "Danny Deever" that is best remembered today. With a first performance by American baritone David Bispham at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on December 11, 1897, Damrosch's song quickly achieved popularity among the American public. In fact, Bispham, in his autobiography, A Quaker Singer's Recollections, claimed that Damrosch's song made a strong impression on President Theodore Roosevelt.
Damrosch's version of the song, published in 1897, is a dramatic account of the death of Danny Deever. Organized in a "question and answer" sequence, the verses usually begin with questions posed by the Files-on-Parade (a soldier in the ranks), which are then answered by the Color Sergeant in the song's refrain. While the militaristic accompaniment helps distinguish the Color Sergeant from the soldier, the performer must differentiate between these two characters in order for the narrative to be effective. With its brilliant conclusion, Damrosch's "Danny Deever" deserves a wider hearing among today's audiences.
--Library of Congress
by Rudyard Kipling
"What are the bugles blowin' for?" said Files-on-Parade.
"To turn you out, to turn you out", the Colour-Sergeant said.
"What makes you look so white, so white?" said Files-on-Parade.
"I'm dreadin' what I've got to watch", the Colour-Sergeant said.
For they're hangin' Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play,
The regiment's in 'ollow square -- they're hangin' him to-day;
They've taken of his buttons off an' cut his stripes away,
An' they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.
"What makes the rear-rank breathe so 'ard?" said Files-on-Parade.
"It's bitter cold, it's bitter cold", the Colour-Sergeant said.
"What makes that front-rank man fall down?" said Files-on-Parade.
"A touch o' sun, a touch o' sun", the Colour-Sergeant said.
They are hangin' Danny Deever, they are marchin' of 'im round,
They 'ave 'alted Danny Deever by 'is coffin on the ground;
An' 'e'll swing in 'arf a minute for a sneakin' shootin' hound --
O they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'!
"'Is cot was right-'and cot to mine", said Files-on-Parade.
"'E's sleepin' out an' far to-night", the Colour-Sergeant said.
"I've drunk 'is beer a score o' times", said Files-on-Parade.
"'E's drinkin' bitter beer alone", the Colour-Sergeant said.
They are hangin' Danny Deever, you must mark 'im to 'is place,
For 'e shot a comrade sleepin' -- you must look 'im in the face;
Nine 'undred of 'is county an' the regiment's disgrace,
While they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.
"What's that so black agin' the sun?" said Files-on-Parade.
"It's Danny fightin' 'ard for life", the Colour-Sergeant said.
"What's that that whimpers over'ead?" said Files-on-Parade.
"It's Danny's soul that's passin' now", the Colour-Sergeant said.
For they're done with Danny Deever, you can 'ear the quickstep play,
The regiment's in column, an' they're marchin' us away;
Ho! the young recruits are shakin', an' they'll want their beer to-day,
After hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.
Photo: Rudyard Kipling. [date unknown]. Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress.