The Three Versions of Barbara Allen Performed by Jean Ritchie, Joan Baez and The St. Peter’s Chorus
“Barbara Allen” is traditionally a Scottish ballad that was brought to the United States where it became a popular folk song (Arthur Gribben, p.112). It tells the story of a Man who died heartbroken trying to win the heart of Barbara Allen unsuccessfully. She grieved after he died and they were soon reunited in death, buried by his side and out of their hearts grew a Rose and a Briar forming a true lovers’ knot (Child, 1965).
The Description of the 3 Versions
The rendition of the song by Jean Ritchie, popularly regarded as the Mother of Folk, ran for about 5 minutes. The Ballad was performed in the traditional a cappella style with a unique crystal clear and piercing soprano voice, the rhythm sounded as if she was consoling the bereaved, the emotions, deep yet passed across as if to an empty room or to an entire city full of people intently listening to her as she enchants them just like the Witch’s Aria in Merlin (TV series) pilot episode.
Both Jean Ritchie and Joan Baez released their version of the song in 1961 (Wilentz, Marcus, 1938). As soon as Joan Baez started strumming the guitar, her mastery of the instrument came alive, as she played effortlessly. The accompaniment gave it the life of the country folk while telling the story charmingly and melodiously with her unique soprano voice.
The performance by St. Peter’s Chorus had a Christmas ambience likened to that of the Christmas ballad, the holly and the ivy. The fusion of the treble and baritone in sweet harmony, the minor notes and the lower noted boomed by the bass part, gave the song uplifting tone.
Compare and contrast the three versions. How are they similar and different?
The version of Jean and Joan were definitely the traditional folk and they differ to the Choral style but they all the Scottish heritage embedded in their translation of the emotion.
Which one(s) do you prefer? Why?
It is tough to pick any of them. I guess there is one for each moment, mood or season. For an avid lover of music, you just want to get a pot of tea and be wrapped in the beauty and emotion they exude.