Greensleeves is another classic melody that would be a contender for the most beautiful tune award (at least in my book.) It’s haunting notes bring me back to medieval times.
Hearing this song also reminds me of hearing Steve Tiilikainen play this tune on the piano so beautifully when we were in college – not bad for a computer science geek. It really was amazing how many good musicians we had in the engineering department. I’m pretty certain that we rivaled the music department.
Greensleeves From Wikipedia
“Greensleeves” is a traditional English folk song and tune, a ground either of the form called a romanesca or of its slight variant, the passamezzo antico.
A broadside ballad by this name was registered at the London Stationer’s Company in September 1580, by Richard Jones, as “A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves”. Six more ballads followed in less than a year, one on the same day, 3 September 1580 (“Ye Ladie Greene Sleeves answere to Donkyn hir frende” by Edward White), then on 15 and 18 September (by Henry Carr and again by White), 14 December (Richard Jones again), 13 February 1581 (Wiliam Elderton), and August 1581 (White’s third contribution, “Greene Sleeves is worne awaie, Yellow Sleeves Comme to decaie, Blacke Sleeves I holde in despite, But White Sleeves is my delighte”. It 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.
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.
There is a persistent belief that Greensleeves was composed by Henry VIII for his lover and future queen consort Anne Boleyn. Boleyn allegedly rejected King Henry’s attempts to seduce her and this rejection may be referred to in the song when the writer’s love “cast me off discourteously”. However, Henry did not compose “Greensleeves”, which is probably Elizabethan in origin and is based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after his death.
An alternative explanation is that Lady Green Sleeves was, through her costume, incorrectly assumed to be immoral. Her “discourteous” rejection of the singer’s advances supports the contention that she is not.One possible interpretation of the lyrics is that Lady Green Sleeves was a promiscuous young woman and perhaps a prostitute. At the time, the word “green” had sexual connotations, most notably in the phrase “a green gown”, a reference to the way that grass stains might be seen on a woman’s dress if she had engaged in sexual intercourse out-of-doors.
In Nevill Coghill’s translation of The Canterbury Tales, he explains that “green [for Chaucer’s age] was the colour of lightness in love. This is echoed in ‘Greensleeves is my delight’ and elsewhere.”
Christmas and New Year texts were associated with the tune from as early as 1686, and by the 19th century almost every printed collection of Christmas carols included some version of words and music together, most of them ending with the refrain “On Christmas Day in the morning”. One of the most popular of these is “What Child Is This?”, written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix.
A variation was used extensively in the 1962 film How the West Was Won as the song “Home in the Meadow”, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, performed by Debbie Reynolds.
“Stay Away” is the theme of the 1968 film Stay Away, Joe performed by Elvis Presley set to the “Greensleeves” tune.
Early literary references
In Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, written around 1602, the character Mistress Ford refers twice without any explanation to the tune of “Greensleeves” and Falstaff later exclaims:
- Let the sky rain potatoes! Let it thunder to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’!
These allusions indicate that the song was already well known at that time.
The earliest known source of the tune (Trinity College, Dublin ms. D. I. 21, c. 1580 – known as “William Ballet’s lute book”) gives the tune in the melodic minor scale. “Greensleeves” is also often played in a natural minor scale and sometimes in the Dorian mode. Although the above printed example is printed with E naturals, the recording features E-flats, thus making it a hybrid of natural minor and harmonic minor.