[Bards] interesting info from the midrealm
Monalee R Kendall
monaleekr at gmail.com
Wed Dec 16 09:54:21 PST 2009
This came across the Middle Kingdom list and I thought it was interesting.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Jonathan Thorn <courtbardkenneth at yahoo.com>
Date: Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 4:33 AM
Subject: [Mid] History "Greensleeves"/"What Child Is This"
To: sca-middle at midrealm.org
Just got through doing research for this as my barony was asked if we could
carol for a local town. Since we weren't actual professional singers, and
since we were and Medieval educational group, I chose only period pieces (or
slightly past 1666) with a couple modern pieces that people could relate to
or sounded/talked about something medieval (Silent Night/ Good King
Wenceslas) I wrote up histories on all the songs and passed it out. Here is
the info on "What Child is This":
This song, the tune of which, according to legend, is mis-credited to
King Henry VIII of England, has become so popular it has five sets of
lyrics: one secular (the original), one new year's (the original carol), one
musical, and two Christmas.
The original, secular version of this tune and lyrics is a traditional
English Folk song, a ground of the form called a romanesca. A broadside
ballad by this name was registered at the London Stationer's Company in 1580
as "A new Northern Dittye of the Lady Green Sleeves: and then appears in the
surviving, A Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584) as "A New Courtly Sonnet of
the Lady Green Sleeves. To the new tune of Green Sleeves." In “The Merry
Wives of Windsor” (circa 1597), Shakespeare twice cites the ballad as the
epitome of raunch. Hypocrisy is likened to setting “the hundred Psalms to
the tune of ‘Green-sleeves.’” And a randy Falstaff proclaims, “….let it
thunder to the tune of ‘Green-sleeves’….” while hoping aphrodisiacs rain
from the sky. The haunting melody contained the words of a man in love with
a woman who spurned his affections:
Alas my love, ye do me wrong,
to cast me off discourteously:
And I have loved you oh so long
Delighting in thy companie.
The first time is appears as a Christmas Carol is from a printing
called New Christmas Carols of 1642 and was a new years carol pleading good
cheer sung by town waits - musicians paid to sit by the town gate or to
wander the streets welcoming dignitaries. It's verses address everyone and
then go to specifically appeal to Jack, Tom, Dick, Bessy, Mary, Joan, and
"the dame of the house." Its first verse being:
The old year now away is fled,
The new year it is entered,
Then Lest us now our sins downtread
And joyfully all appear:
Let's merry be this day,
And les us now both sport and play:
Hand grief, cast care away! God Send you a Happy New year!
However, by the mid-1600s the “Greensleeves” melody was being applied to
lullabyes and unrelated songs in musical theater. Incorrect internet blogs
and papers report that Shakespeare set a hanging scene to the tune, but this
is confused with John Gay’s classic 1728 satire “The Beggar’s Opera,” in
which new “Greensleeves” lyrics include:
But gold from law can take out the sting
And if rich men like us were to swing
’Twou’d thin the land, such numbers to string
Upon Tyburn tree!”
Folk music, theater and England’s morris-dancing kept the tune alive into
the 1800s, when the lyrics of the popular Christmas carol was written in
1865. At the age of twenty-nine, writter William Chatterton Dix was struck
with a sudden and near-fatal illness and confined to bed rest for several
months, during which he went into a deep depression. Yet out of his
near-death experience, Dix wrote many hymns, including "The Manger Throne,"
three verses of which became the lyrics of "What Child is This?"
Music publisher John Stainer pulled out three verses of Dix's poem, set
them to the “Greensleeves” melody, and published it as “What Child Is This?”
in Stainer and Henry Bramley’s 1872 collection “Christmas Carols New and
Old.” Dix had nothing to do with the music applied to his verse and
sometimes didn’t like it. His opinion of the “Greensleeves” melody is not
However, the song's powerful words presented a unique veiw of the birth of
Christ. While the baby was the focal point of the song, the viewpoint of
the writer seemed to be that of an almost confused observer. Dix imagine
visitors to the humble manager wondering who the child was that lay before
them. He wove a story of a child's birth, life, death, and resurrection, but
in each verse it was answered with a triumphant declaration of the infants
What child is this, that lay to rest,
near Mary's lap is sleeping,
Whom angles greet with anthem sweet,
while shepherd's watch are keeping.
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard, and angels sing,
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
the babe, the Son of Mary.
Over the centuries the “Greensleeves” melody has varied as much as its
lyrics. Stainer’s lilting, trilling arrangement has become the modern
standard. Meanwhile, “Greensleeves” continues to live a secular life. Many
Americans know the melody from the song “Home on the Meadow” in the film
“How the West Was Won” (1962). Yet once again the tune was given a new set
of Christmas lyrics by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. and a trio of stars he created
called, The Chipmunks. On their 1963 holiday album, Christmas with the
Chipmunks, Vol. 2, Bagdasarian wrote a new set of lyrics to the tune that
urged folks on this day to lift up their voices and fill the room with
Oh Christmas time, oh time of joy.
What a wondrous day for each girl and boy.
The fire is warm, and the spirit's right,
What a beautiful time it is Christmas.
Lift up your voice and sing,
fill the room with love, let the rafters ring.
Sing out with [word] and rhyme,
what a wonderful time it is Christmas.
Cináed Ulric Amhránaí tan Brionglóid
The Shard Bard - Ahrbaird, Triamhran Baird Colaiste
"In pace, in celebratio, in proelio, in mortuo, canto!"
From: Jonathan Thorn <courtbardkenneth at yahoo.com>
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