Greensleeves: Mythology, History and Music. Part 3 of 3: Music

The remarkable longevity of a 16th century song and tune

Left to right: Adrien le Roy, French lutenist, one composer of passamezzo antico; William Kimber, English morris dancer and concertina player, one player of Bacca Pipes; Ralph Vaughan Williams, composer of Fantasia on Greensleeves; John Coltrane, jazz saxophonist, and Nomansland, trance dance band, both performers of Greensleeves.
Left to right: Adrien le Roy, French lutenist, one composer of a passamezzo antico; William Kimber, English morris dancer and concertina player, one player of Bacca Pipes; Ralph Vaughan Williams, composer of Fantasia on Greensleeves; John Coltrane, jazz saxophonist, and Nomansland, trance dance band, both performers of Greensleeves.

Greensleeves has captured the imagination of musicians for well over four centuries, testified by innumerous versions. This, the third of three articles about the mythology, history and music of Greensleeves, gives an audio flavour of the remarkable versatility and vitality of the melody and song, an à la carte menu to choose from. We begin with versions of the passamezzo antico and romanesca which are the foundation of Greensleeves; then advance to the song on period instruments; the Playford dance; two Greensleeves morris dances; the Christmas song; Ralph Vaughan Williams’ classical version; then a range of more modern interpretations: folk, blues, bluegrass, country, pop, rock, punk, black metal, jazz, flamenco, disco, trance, dubstep, Vietnamese ballet … and the ice cream van tune.

Click on the green text of any version to open up the YouTube video.

Greensleeves’ origins: the passamezzo antico and romanesca

The Greensleeves verse is structurally a passamezzo antico. Here are lute versions of the passamezzo antico by …

Diego Ortiz, Spain, published in 1553

Adrian le Roy, France, 1568

The Greensleeves chorus is structurally a variant of the passamezzo antico, a romanesca. Here are romanescas by …

Alonso Mudarra, Spain, 1546, for 4 course renaissance guitar

Alonso Mudarra, a romanesca called Guardame las vacas for vihuela, here accompanied by lute

Here are the passamezzo antico and romanesca together, played by an ensemble of lutes with a vihuela

The birth of Greensleeves: lute manuscripts

Greensleeves as an anonymous lute duet titled the the terble to grien sliuis (sic) and the ground to grien sluis respectively in the so-called Folger ‘Dowland’ MS, c. 1590, played here on vihuela and lute.

Francis Cutting’s Greenesleeues by maister Cuttinge for lute in BL Add MS 31392, c. 1605, with the most beautiful unexpected twists and turns; sandwiched between the more well-known greene sleues in MS 408/2, c. 1592–1603, an English amateur lute anthology now in Trinity College, Dublin.

Greene sleves Is al mij Joije in the Thysius lute book, Holland, c. 1595–1620.

Greensleeves, with the original words and period instruments

A performance on voice and renaissance lute by Ian Pittaway, plus a quick dash through the chief points in the previous two articles on this site about the song, the first countering the Greensleeves myths and the second giving the true history.

The song, with (some of) the words as it first appeared, with a period instrument consort of lute, recorder, harp and viola da gamba.

Greensleeves as social dance: Playford

The social dance, Greensleeves & Yellow Lace, which appeared in the series of dance manuals, The Dancing Master, initiated in 1651 by John Playford. This dance appeared in the published series from 1721 to 1728.

Greensleeves as a morris dance

The morris dance, Bacca Pipes: two or more dancers each dance over two long-stemmed tobacco pipes, crossed on the ground, the skill being in dancing around, between and over them without touching or disturbing them.

From the morris tradition of Wyresdale, near Lancaster, Greensleaves or Kick my A**e. (The dance starts after 20 seconds.) It was described as “a bit on the rough side and was more often done at weddings and parties than at dances.”

Greensleeves in religious and classical music

What Child Is This, originally written by English poet and lay theologian William Chatterton Dix as a poem, The Manger Throne, in 1865, set by John Stainer to Greensleeves in 1871 to become a Christmas favourite.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves, which also includes another traditional English song, Lovely Joan, which RVW collected himself in Suffolk. Arranged by Ralph Greaves, overseen by RVW himself. This is a lovely live version played by a small ensemble of 7 musicians.

Folk who play Greensleeves, often bluesily

Steve Baughman plays his arrangement and variations – fabulous, virtuoso folk guitar playing.

James Taylor plays Greensleeves bluesily.

Hans Theessink plays Saint James Infirmary Blues incorporating Greensleeves.

Hoyt Axton, adding some words of his own.

Greensleeves goes bluegrass, country and pop

Roger Sprung, bluegrass.

Nashville West, featuring Clarence White, “country rock”.

The great Chet Atkins, country guitar.

Olivia Newton John.

Marianne Faithfull.

Neil Young, live.

Glen Campbell.

The Moody Blues, What Child is This.

Greensleeves with headbangers, punks and metal    

Ritchie Blackmore’s rockers, Rainbow.

Slime play a punk instrumental.

Abwhore play a black metal version.

Greensleeves jazz, bossanova & flamenco

The Buddy Rich Big Band.

Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins – just lovely.

The John Coltrane Quartet.

Mauricio Montecinos plays a bossanova and flamenco Greensleeves.

Greensleeves disco, trance, dubstep

Minx play disco – surprisingly good!

Nomansland play trance and reggae.

James Sonke turns it into dubstep.

Greensleeves on TV

Snickers commercial with Henry VIII.

Homer Simpson on trombone.

Lassie The Miracle theme tune.

Greensleeves … errr … uncategorisable    

Trio di trombone, trombone trio.

Sung in Vietnamese with a ballet dancer!

Just to show Greensleeves has lost none of its appeal for the next generation

A teenage rock band in the making, in the basement.

No list would be complete without …

Greensleeves as an ice cream van tune.

3 thoughts on “Greensleeves: Mythology, History and Music. Part 3 of 3: Music

  • 12th August 2015 at 6:24 pm
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    Entertaining post.

    Reply
  • 13th August 2015 at 2:41 pm
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    Great idea for an original post.

    Reply
  • 13th April 2016 at 8:40 pm
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    Excelente artigo!

    Reply

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