Kemper the Rover

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Kemper the Rover or Kemper il Monteors in Kerno (fl. 1600) was a wandering Kemrese bard who travelled the length and breadth of Britain and France playing for the entertainment of noble and commoner alike. He was well liked for his manners and respected for his cyclopedic knowledge of British history and genealogy.

He is best known in modern times as composer of scores of dance tunes for pipes and fiddle. A few select titles include "Sal Smith her Lament", "The Governess her Peculiar Twitch", "Mrs. Widgery her Border", and "Jocko his Hapenny Nag".

Kemper was a contemporary of Will Kemp of England. The two undertook a great feat - a publicity stunt as it were - in 1599 when Kemper accompanied the great Kemp on his "Nine Daies VVonder", the famous morris dance from London to Norwich.

[From "British Composers of the Early Modern Period", Gaughn and Routledge, 2000]


Kemper map Carlon (or ma Carolo) was born sometime around 1560 or 1570 most likely in Ill Paes (Kemr) to Brehonecq parents. In his youth, Kemper was informally schooled in music and by 10 or 11 years of age had been placed with a Kemrese bard for formal schooling. In after years, he took to the road and wandered Kemr, Ireland and France, visiting lord and commoner alike, playing harp, fiddle, lute and various pipes as requested. Though he rarely had more than a shilling, he was generally welcomed and had the habit of paying for his bed and board by crafting a tune or song for his hosts. The oblique references in some of his surviving works suggest that not every host offered the bard the best of accomodations.

Kemper was at home with the harp, fiddle and lute, drum and tabour and the three classes of pipes (flutes, bladder and bag pipes and reed pipes). He seems to have met with keyboard instruments infrequently and disdained them. A jigg title the music of which has not survived, "The Muses Tinklebox", refers to the piscko di trinir, now a music box or toy piano, but may well have refered to the host's harpsichord or virginall.

Only a small number of atributable tunes are extant, perhaps upwards of five score. After years of wandering, Kemper came at last to the house of an old friend, Dr Jowan Quidgerey, in the winter of 1614 when he fell gravely ill. During his convalescence, Quidgerey collected a large number of tunes from Kemper, though there is indication that only about 50 or 60 of them were composed by Kemper. The large number of tunes collected may well mean that Kemper was simply playing out the songs and tunes he knew that were crafted by his teachers or other now forgotten bards. In addition to the tunes collected by Dr Quidgerey, the other dozen or so attributed tunes are in diverse collections in Kemr, Scotland and France. Though Kemper was an accomplished harper, none of his harp pieces survive. As Dr Quidgery wrote in his notebook: "Since the passing of the bard [Kemper] I continually lament that my skill at transcription has caused a great music to be silenced for evermore: for I am too poor a harper and no sort of lutenist to note the sounds that the master elicits from his instrument. Even though it live ever in the hearts and enflame the spirits of every soul that bides in this House. Therefore, I am compelled to note only those that I may play upon the pipe or fiddle..."

Kemper map Carlon died at Quidgerey House in the spring of 1615.

A list of the better known tunes:

  • Sal Smiths Lament (air)
  • The Governesses Peculiar Twitch (jigg)
  • Jockows Hapenny Nagg (jigg)
  • Banks of the Severn (air)
  • Mrs Quidgereys Lodger (morris)
  • Mrs Quidgereys Delight (jigg)
  • Mrs Quidgereys Serving Man (jigg)
  • Saint Stannows Choir (reel)
  • A Soughing in the Heather (air)

[From "Dr Quidgerey's Notebook", Kings College, 2001]


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