Basel: The Musician

The Musician
Basel's dance of death, The musician

Todt zum Kirbepfeiffer:
WAs wölln wir für ein Täntzle haben,
   Den Bettler oder schwartzen Knaben,
Mein Kirbehans, Spiel wär nicht gantz,
   Wärst du auch nicht an diesem Tantz.

Death to The Musician
Which dance are we going to have?
"The Beggar" or "Black Boy",
my carnival-Hans? The play wouldn't be complete
if you too were not in this dance.

Der Kirbepfeiffer:
KEin Kirb war mir Wegs halb zu weit,
   Davon ich nicht hab bracht mein Beut:
Nun ists auß, weg muß ich mit Noth,
   Die Pfeiff ist g'fallen mir ins Koth.

The Musician.
No church fair was so far away
that I didn't earn from it.
Now it's over, I'm obliged to go away.
The fife has fallen from me into the dirt.
Kleinbasel, The musician.
Büchel, Musician
Mechel, the musician

"Kirbe" is local dialect for "Kirchweih". A "Kirchweih" is a church fair held in connection with the "Kirchweihe" - the annual celebration of the consecration of the church. Thus, a "Kirbepfeiffer" is a person who makes a living from playing the fife at church fairs.

I don't know what kind of box it is that Death has strapped around his waist. I must be a later addition because in Kleinbasel (picture to the left) Death has neither box nor fiddle.

Death suggests that they play "The Beggar" or "Black Boy". In fact there existed both a "Bettler-Tanz" and a folk-dance called "Der Schwarze Knabe". The latter might have been the same as the playground game named "Der Schwarze Mann", where every 9th dancer becomes "the black man".

Frölich's woodcuts originally didn't have a picture of the musician, but one was added in the later editions by Mechel (picture to the right). This woodcut places the scene within the city, whereas Merian (above) lets the meeting take place out in the field.

English translation from Beck, 1852
Death to the Minstrel.The Minstrel's reply.

What reel or jig shall we now play?
The beggar? or the Black boy? Say,
My Minstrel, for were you not there,
Imperfect were both dance and air.

No market was too far for me,
In all I gained my penny fee;
But now 'tis done and go I must,
My pipe is fallen in the dust.

Translation from Hess, 1841
Death to the Fairpiper.Answer of the Fairpiper.

What a dance, shall we now play,
The beggar or the blackboy say?
Fairpiper we could nod prance,
Were thou not by this dance.

No fair was to distant for my start,
Of which I should not have my part,
Now it is out away must I,
My pipe now in the dirt does lie.


Various Artists

Merian (1621)
Merian 1621: Musician
 1715: Musician
Chovin (1744)
Chovin 1744: Musician
Büchel (1768)
Büchel 1768: Musician
Büchel (1773)
Büchel 1773: Musician
Girardet (1788)
Girardet 1788: Minstrel
Feyerabend (1806)
Feyerabend 1806: Musician
Hess (1841)
Hess 1841: Musician
Beck (1852)
Beck 1852: Musician
Stuckert (1858)
Stuckert 1858: Musician