"The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" is both a painting and a song.



The Painting


The scene at first glance appears to be a cacophony of details blurring in to each other. The colours are predominantly grey and brown with occasional splashes of colour, however these splashes of red, blue, green, and yellow ochre still appear to be viewed through a grey-brown filter. Upon looking at the painting closer, the separate intricate details start becoming more apparent. In the foreground is a fairy feller with his axe raised over a pile of chestnuts. In the middle, about a third down from the top, stands the King & Queen of the Fairies. Most of the painting is filled in with dirt, with some nuts and flowers. Scattered around the rest of the scene are other fairy folk, all there to observe the fairy feller make his master axe stroke. Fine grass strands stretch over the scene from the bottom of the canvas, given the appearance of a viewing the scene from the outside.

Richard Dadd began painting this work in 1855 and by 1864 still had not completed it. The work remains unfinished.  You can see at the bottom of the painting where the details have been sketched in but not painted yet, while scattered elements in the same section are already meticulously painted. Richard Dadd began painting this work while he was an inmate in an asylum, and in 1864 was transferred to a different institution, leaving the painting behind. Nevertheless, he still added to the work later by composing a long poem just short of 4000 words, explaining the name and purpose of each figure in the painting. The poem was called "Elimination of a Picture & its subject - called The Feller's Master Stroke".

The painting is comprised of oil paint on canvas, 54 × 39.4 cm (21.3 × 15.5 in). The painting is currently owned by the executive non-departmental public body Tate, in the UK, and is at this very moment on display at Tate Britain between September 2017 and January 2018. Tate's webpage for the painting can be found at http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/dadd-the-fairy-fellers-master-stroke-t00598



The Song


The song was inspired by the painting, and appears as the seventh song on Queen's second album "Queen II" (released 1974). This is the second song on side B of the vinyl LP version of the same album. The album as a whole has many fantasy elements and this song is no exception, with fantasy lyrics, gritty melodic rock, and many different layers created in the studio. The song starts with a gong fading from the previous song on the album, "Ogre Battle". There's a fast paced steady ticking, followed closely 12 beats later by matched speed harpsichord chords to create tension, which is eventually broken another 26 beats later by the iconic Queen vocal harmonies singing "He's a fairy feller". A quick rise and fall of a comedic slide whistle goes off part way through these first words, and piano, electric bass, and drums join the harpsichord to rock out for a while, electric guitars coming in too before more lyrics are eventually sung. The lyrics of the song switch back and forth between singing techniques, with some lyrics sung with vocal harmonies and some with each line overdubbed in separately one after the other to create texture. The song is a classic example of Queen's studio techniques, with many sounds all overlapping each other throughout.  "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" ends with a solo piano slowing down from rock tempo to gentle lullaby tempo, merging without a break into the next song on the album, "Nevermore".

"The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" was written by Freddie Mercury after he saw the painting in the Tate Gallery, and the lyrics refer to each of the characters in the painting, as described in Dadd's poem.


He's a fairy feller

The fairy folk have gathered round the new moon's shine
To see the feller crack a nut at night's noon time
To swing his axe he swears, as it climbs he dares
To deliver
The master-stroke

Ploughman, Waggoner Will, and types
Politician with senatorial pipe, he's a dilly-dally-o
Pedagogue squinting, wears a frown
And a satyr peers under lady's gown, dirty fellow
What a dirty laddio
Tatterdemalion and a junketer
There's a thief and a dragonfly trumpeter - he's my hero

Fairy dandy tickling the fancy of his lady friend
The nymph in yellow, "Can we see the master-stroke?"
What a quaere fellow

Soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor, ploughboy
Waiting to hear the sound
And the arch-magician presides
He is the leader
Oberon and Titania watched by a harridan 
Mab is the queen and there's a good apothecary-man
Come to say hello

Fairy dandy tickling the fancy of his lady friend
The nymph in yellow
What a quaere fellow

The ostler stares with hands on his knees
Come on Mister Feller, crack it open if you please