The Golden Willow Tree

(1952)

“The Golden Willow Tree” is the third song in Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs, Set 2. It is Copland’s arrangement of an Anglo-American ballad known as “The Golden Vanity,” a melody that was also used by English composer Benjamin Britten in his folk song settings.

-----

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.

Copland’s version is based on a recording issued by the Archive of American Folk Song housed at the Library of Congress. The recording was made by Justus Begley (with banjo accompaniment) for Alan and Elizabeth Lomax in 1937.


The text of “The Golden Willow Tree” is the most extensive of the collection, featuring a fairly lengthy narrative tale of maritime exploits. Although Copland completely modified the contour of the melodic line, he retained the modal ambiguities found in the original folksong.


Copland’s reworking of the melody for “The Golden Willow Tree” can be found in the holograph sketches of the Old American Songs (set II), available on-line through the Aaron Copland Collection at the Library of Congress: .


--Stephanie Poxon, Ph.D.


The Golden Willow Tree
Traditional


There was a little ship in South Amerikee,
Crying O the land that lies so low,
There was a little ship in South Amerikee,
She went by the name of the Golden Willow Tree,
As she sailed in the lowland lonesome low,
As she sailed in the lowland so low.


We hadn't been a sailin' more than two weeks or three,
Till we came in sight of the British Roverie,
As she sailed in the lowland lonesome low,
As she sailed in the lowland so low.


Up stepped a little carpenter boy, Says
"What will you give me for the ship that I'll destroy?"
"I'll give you gold or I'll give thee,
The fairest of my daughters as she sails upon the sea
If you'll sink 'em in the lowland lonesome low,
If you'll sink 'em in the land that lies so low."


He turned upon his back and away swum he,
He swum till he came to the British Roverie,
He had a little instrument fitted for his use,
He bored nine holes and he bored them all at once.
He turned upon his breast and back swum he,
He swum till he came to the Golden Willow Tree.


"Captain, O Captain, come take me on board,
And do unto me as good as your word
For I sank 'em in the lowland lonesome low,
I sank 'em in the lowland so low."


"Oh no, I won't take you on board,
Nor do unto you as good as my word,
Tho' you sank 'em in the lowland lonesome low,
Tho' you sank 'em in the land that lies so low:'


"If it wasn't for the love that I have for your men,
I'd do unto you as I done unto them,
I'd sink you in the lowland lonesome low,
I'd sink you in the lowland so low:'


He turned upon his head and down swum he,
He swum till he came to the bottom of the sea.
Sank himself in the lowland lonesome low,
Sank himself in the land that lies so low.


Audio PLaylist

Videos