Folk Songs Part 1 – Greensleeves

1 May 2014

At Caroline Springs School of Music we place great value on learning folk repertoire. Folk songs that have been passed on from generation to generation are part of our musical DNA. How many of today’s songs will be still performed in 500 years from now? Songs such as Greensleeves and Scarborough Fair feature prominently in our program and ANZCA exams.

 

Folk songs have long been a great source of material for Classical composers and Jazz musicians such as guitar great Kenny Burrell have delivered splendid versions of many folk classics.

 

The piece being performed by our principal guitar teacher at Caroline Springs School of Music Brendan Hains is a simple classical guitar arrangement of Greensleeves.

 

Brendan is playing his CS3 Alhambra –thanks for the endorsement Pierre and Alhambra!

 

"Greensleeves" is a traditional English folk song and tune, over a ground either of the form called a romanesca.

 

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.

 

There is a persistent belief that Greensleeves was composed by Henry VIII for his lover and future queen consort Anne Boleyn. However, the piece is based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after Henry's death, making it more likely to be Elizabethan in origin.

 

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."

 

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.

 

Brendan Hains 

Guitar Teacher

Caroline Springs School of Music

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