Greensleeves (2)

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GREENSLEEVES [2]. AKA - "Green Sleeves." AKA and see "Basket of Oysters (2)," "Bunch of Roses," "Paddy the Weaver," "Pirriwig (The)," "Green Sleeves and Mutton Pies." English, Scottish; Air, Country and Morris Dance Tune (6/4 or 6/8 time). E Dorian (Chappell). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. Williamson prints three tunes under the same name: tune A is in A Minor, form AABB; tune B is in C Major, in form AABB; tune C is in A Mixolydian, form AABB. Musically the melody is not so much a single specific tune, argues John M. Ward, as it is a tune type or descant which can be found in many variations and forms. All seem to conform, however, to the harmonically structured outline of a "ground" or bass progression known as the romanesca, which is similar to the Renaissance choral scheme passemezzo antico though the initial tone is a third higher (Cazden, et al, 1982) [passemezzo antico structure goes i-VII-i-V-III-VII-i-(V)-i]. Chappell (1859), Williamson and Alburger (1983) all note that a tune by this name was registered at the Stationer's Company in 1580 as "A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves" (an early attempt at copyrighting). 'Northern Dittye' here means not Scotland but Northumberland and the Border regions along with the English Midlands; Kidson remarks that during his era (early 20th century) the melody was in the "cherished possession of countrymen in the Midlands, who execute a rustic dance to a traditional survival of it" (p. 5). See "Green Sleeves" [1] in Northumbrian musician Henry Atkinson's 1695 manuscript, for example supporting Kidson's observation.

Shakespeare wrote in one of his plays, "Let it thunder to the tune of Greensleeves," and again, in The Merry Wives of Windsor when he has Mrs. Ford contrast it with the Hundredth Psalm -'they do no more keep pace together, than the Hundredth Psalm to the tune of Green Sleeves.' Indeed, the tune at the quick tempo Shakespeare suggests has been immensely popular since his time (Emmerson {1971} notes the slow version associated with Christmas scarcely predates the 1940's). Williamson's versions includes two early tunes which were used for a morris dance called "The Bacca Pipes Jig", a dance which features motions with elegant "churchwarden pipes". He says, "the tunes here go in a fast 2/4, which bars them from the category of jigs proper and puts them in the same class of tunes that were called gigs in Wales. The first has a similarity to a Scots tune called 'Pirriwig (The).' It's based on the playing of William Kimber. The second tune has a closer resemblance to the well-known song 'Greensleeves'" (Williamson, 1976).

Country dance directions to the tune have been recovered from the Holmain MS. (c. 1710-50) from Dumfries-shire. The tune and dance were known in the American colonies in the 18th century (under the titles "Green sleeves" or "Green sleeves & mutton pies"), though there is no reason to believe either was particularly popular as it was not widely reproduced in either MS copy books or dance publications of the period. An American version with the usual 'A' part but quite a different 'B' part appears in Henry Beck's German flute MS of 1786. Kidson (1915) reports the tune was probably an "art-tune" in the 16th century, not a folk-tune, and that both melody and lyrics were immediately popular. It was frequently the vehicle for political ditties and for the "scraps of verses that were employed in the early ballad operas" (p. 27). It was such a common tune in the 17th century that the tune was mentioned by Sir John Hawkins, who recalled disdainfully:

...Fidlers and others, hired by the master of the house; such as in the night season were wont to parade the city and suburbs under the title of Waits...Half a dozen of fidlers would scrape "Sellinger's Round," or "John, Come Kiss Me," or "Old Simon the King" with divisions, till themselves and their audience were tired after which as many players on the hautboy would in the most harsh and discordant tones grate forth "Greensleeves," "Yellow Stockings," "Gillean of Croydon," or some such common dance tune, and the people thought it fine music.

Kidson (1915) states the air was simplified through the years and that complete passages were eliminated over time. To illustrate he gives a "pure" early 16th century version as well as later "degraded" versions: one from a fiddle MS from 1838, and another from Playford's Dancing Master of 1716, called "Greensleeves and Yellow Lace" (other "degraded" versions mentioned are from The Beggar's Opera {1728}, and D'Urfey's Wit and Mirth). Yet another "degraded" version, devoid of all lilt, can be found on page 16 of violinist Whittier Perkins' Manuscript copybook (Massachusetts, 1790). Chappell (1859) finds the tune in William Ballet's Lute Book and Sir John Hawkins' transcripts of the early 17th century, but he asserts that the ballad had attained popularity before the 1580 date as there was another ballad registered with the Stationers at the same time entitled "A ballad, being the "Ladie Greene Sleeves Answere to Donkyn his frende." The ballad became even more popular immediately after its publication, probably on the strength of the engaging tune, for numerous attempts were made to improve upon the original words which "are neither remarkable for novelty of subject, nor for its treatment" (Chappell, p. 240).

Tunes also going by the title "Greensleeves" appear Gillespie Manuscript of Perth (1768, see Greensleeves (4)" and in Walsh's Country Dancing Master of 1718. Breathnach (1963) mentions the tune in conjunction with "Pingneacha Rua agus Pras," "The Humors of Ennistymon," "Waves of Tramore (The)," "County Limerick Buckhunt," "Larry Grogan (1)," "The Lasses of Melross," "Little Fanny's Fancy," "Humours of Milltown (2)," "Lynn's Favourite," "Coppers and Brass (2)," "Hartigan's Fancy", and "Finerty's Frolic," for which see "Greensleeves (3)/Greensleeves (3)." See also the Shetland variant of "Greensleeves", called "Whalsey."

Source for notated version: Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Time), vol. 1, 1859; p. 239. Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Time), vol. 1, undated [2]; p. 230. Kidson (English Folksong and Dance), 1915; p. 27. Merryweather (Merryweather's Tunes for the English Bagpipe), 1989; p. 27. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 69. Williamson (English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Fiddle Tunes), 1976; p. 33.

Printed sources:

Recorded sources: Flying Fish FF-407, Robin Williamson - "Winter's Turning" (1986).




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