"Greensleeves": an early romantic work?

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"Greensleeves": an early romantic work?

Post by piston » Fri Mar 02, 2007 6:55 pm

Greensleeves sounds very romantic to me. And yet, it is said to have originated some four centuries ago! Few English "folk" tunes have been quoted or orchestrated more often than this work. Any guess on its probable composer? Do you give any credit to this legend?

A widely-believed (but completely unproven) legend is that it was composed by King Henry VIII of England (1491-1547) for his lover and future queen consort Anne Boleyn. Anne, the youngest daughter of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, rejected Henry's attempts to seduce her. This rejection is apparently referred to in the song, when the writer's love "cast me off discourteously." It is not known if the legend is true, but the song is still commonly associated with Boleyn in the public mind.

The tune is found in several late 16th century and early 17th century sources, such as Ballet's MS Lute Book and Het Luitboek van Thysius, as well as various manuscripts preserved in the Cambridge University libraries. A broadside ballad by this name was registered at the London Stationer's Company in 1580 as "A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves." No copy of that printing is known. It 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." It remains debatable whether this suggests that an old tune of "Greensleeves" was in circulation, or which one our familiar tune is. Many surviving sets of lyrics were written to this tune.

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Post by bricon » Fri Mar 02, 2007 7:51 pm

When Greensleeves is sung accompanied by a solo lute or harp it sounds just like a madrigal from the Tudor period. There was a tendency to orchestrate and re-arrange pieces from earlier eras in the 19th and 20th centuries; Greensleeves was no exception. That simple melody has been arranged by EVERYONE; from Vaughan Williams to Mantovani and Oscar Peterson to (the heavy rocker from Deep Purple) Ritchie Blackmore.

Greensleeves can “sound” like any musical genre.

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Post by piston » Fri Mar 02, 2007 8:11 pm

True. But is it also part of a cultural trend, a popular "gaillarde" Italian dance originating in Rome during the 16th century and known to some as a romanesca?

Indeed, all you linguists out there, where does the term "romantic" originate? :D

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Post by jbuck919 » Sat Mar 03, 2007 1:30 am

I'm reminded of a famous "misprint" in Shakespeare from Henry IV Part 2 where the bawdy house character (Mistress Quickly?) recounts the death of Falstaff. "His nose was as sharp as a pen, and a table of green fields." It's usually revised to "and a' babbled of green fields," but I've heard it speculated that it might have been meant as "on a table (tablature) of Green Fields," this being apparently another Elizabethan song like Greensleeves.

Sometimes a great tune is just a great tune.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Mar 03, 2007 3:41 am

bricon wrote:There was a tendency to orchestrate and re-arrange pieces from earlier eras in the 19th and 20th centuries;
Actually a very old urge. Opera was "invented" in Florence in the late 16th century by a group of talented dabblers who were actually trying to simulate antique Greek drama performances without having much of a clue as to how the music for same would have sounded. The past is such a rich source of inspiration, why let a good tune languish just because it isn't new? Older periods are at such remove from contemporaries of just about every era that "the early music revival" has been in process for about 600 years.
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