Friday, January 18, 8582

Thomas Ravenscroft (1582-1635) - Blind Mice

Thomas Ravenscroft (1582-1635) - Three Blind Mice (1609)

Thomas Ravenscroft (c. 1582 or 1592 until 1635) was an English composer, theorist and editor, notable as a composer of rounds and catches, and especially for compiling collections of British folk music.

He probably sang in the choir of St. Paul's Cathedral from 1594, when a "Thomas Raniscroft" was listed on the choir rolls; likely he remained there until around 1600, under the directorship of Thomas Giles. He probably received his bachelor's degree in 1605 from Cambridge.

Ravenscroft's principal contributions are his collections of folk music, including catches, rounds, street cries, vendor songs, "freeman's songs" and other anonymous music, in three collections: Pammelia (1609), Deuteromelia (1609) and Melismata (1611). Some of the music he compiled has acquired quite extraordinary fame, though his name is rarely associated with the music: for example Three Blind Mice first appears in Deuteromelia. He also published a metrical psalter (The Whole Booke of Psalmes) in 1621. Hs works include 11 anthems, 3 motets for five voices, and four fantasias for viols.

In addition to his activities as a composer and editor, he wrote two treatises on music theory: A Briefe Discourse of the True (but Neglected) Use of Charact'ring the Degrees ... (London, 1614), and A Treatise of Musick, which remains in manuscript (unpublished).


Three Blind Mice is a children's nursery rhyme and musical round.

The modern words are:

Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer's wife
She cut off their tails with a carving knife.
Did you ever see such a thing in your life
As three blind mice.

The first publication of this rhyme was written by Thomas Ravenscroft in 1609. The lyrics there are:

Three Blinde Mice,
three Blinde Mice,
Dame Iulian,
Dame Iulian,
The Miller and his merry olde Wife,
shee scrapte her tripe licke thou the knife.

There is an urban legend that this musical round was written earlier and refers to Queen Mary I of England executing three Protestant bishops. The earliest lyrics don't talk about directly killing the three blind mice and are dated after Queen Mary died, however, "she scrapte her tripe licke thou the knife" implies they were prepared and consumed if not a reference to tasting the blood of a slain adversary. (she scraped off the entrails and the knife was licked).
There is a narrative ambiguity at the heart of the rhyme, which is the question over whether the mice are chasing the farmer's wife after she cut their tails off, or whether she cut their tails off after they began chasing her.

In several sports (basketball and hockey, for example, which have three referrees), "Three Blind Mice" is used as a derogatory phrase for poor referees. Bands also play the song to mock referees in similar cases. Such references, however, are heavily frowned upon officially by both sports as unsportsmanlike.

Before major-league baseball required four umpires at every game, there were regularly three.

The Brooklyn Dodgers had a fan band called the "Sym-Phoney Band," led by Shorty Laurice, which started playing "Three Blind Mice" when the umpires came out onto the field until the league office ordered the team to stop it.

Joseph Holbrooke (1878-1958) composed his Symphonic Variations, opus 37, based on Three Blind Mice. Also, Joseph Haydn used its theme in the Finale (4th movement) of his Symphony 83 (La Poule) (1785-86); one of the six Paris Symphonies, and the music also appears in the final movement of English composer Eric Coates' suite The Three Men.

Three Blind Mice was also used as a theme song for The Three Stooges.

The Beatles used the sentence "See how they run" in two of its songs: I am the Walrus and Lady Madonna.

[8582 Dafne /8582 Ravenscroft / 8578 Figured Bass]