Readers of our previous blog post will be aware that today is the last day of Shakespeare in Ten Acts, the British Library‚Äôs popular exhibition celebrating the 400th anniversary of the birth of the Bard.
As the exhibition draws to a close, our attention has turned to the Great Fire of London. After raging for several days, it was finally extinguished on 6 September 1666, 350 years ago today.
Here in Music Collections, we have one particular question in mind: what do Shakespeare, music and the Great Fire of London have in common?
The answer lies in the well-known song "London‚Äôs burning":
London's burning, London's burning
Fetch the engine, fetch the engine
Fire, fire! Fire, fire!
Pour on water, pour on water
Still popular in schools today, the song is often sung in a round, with each singer starting after the previous one has sung one line of text. The words are often considered to be about the Great Fire of London. However, the earliest known notated version actually dates from 1580 and bears the words ‚ÄúScotland it burneth‚ÄĚ. It forms part of the Lant Manuscript, held in the collections at King‚Äôs College Cambridge (King's College, Rowe MS 1), and is set to essentially the same music.
‚ÄúScotland it burneth‚ÄĚ (King's College, Rowe MS 1). Reproduced by permission of the Provost and Scholars of King‚Äôs College, Cambridge
And now for the Shakespeare connection. The song is alluded to in Shakespeare‚Äôs The Taming of the Shrew, Act 4, Scene 1. Grumio asks Curtis to prepare a warm fire for guests:
Curtis: Who calls so coldly?
Grumio: A piece of ice. If thou doubt it, thou may'st slide from my shoulder to my heel, with no greater a run but my head and my neck. A fire, good Curtis.
Curtis: Is my master and his wife coming, Grumio?
Grumio: O ay, Curtis, av; and therefore ‚Äúfire, fire; cast no water‚ÄĚ.
If you‚Äôre struggling to remember how the tune goes, here‚Äôs a version from our printed music collections for four-part choir arranged by one William Schaeffer and published in 1930. Enjoy!
British Library, VOC/1930/SCHAŐąFFER