Popular Music Of The Olden Time Vol 1

Ancient Songs, Ballads, & Dance Tunes, Sheet Music & Lyrics - online book

Home Main Menu Singing & Playing Order & Order Info Support Search Easter Hymns

Share page  Visit Us On FB

Previous Contents Next
SUMER IS ICUMEN IN.                                                 23
the song with its music must therefore be given to the first half of the thir­teenth century, at latest." I have thus entered into detail concerning this song (though all the judges of manuscripts, whom I have been enabled to consult, are of the same opinion as to its antiquity), because it is not only one of the first English songs with or without music, but the first example of counterpoint in six parts, as well as of fugue, catch, and canon; and at least a century, if not two hundred years, earlier than any composition of the kind produced out of England.11
The antiquity of the words has not been denied, the progress of our language having been much more studied than our music, but the manuscript deserves much more attention from musicians than it has yet received.1* It is not in Gregorian notation, which might have been a bar to all improvement, but very much resem­bles that of Walter Odington, in 1230. All the notes are black. It has neither marks for time, the red note, nor the white open note, all of which were in use in the following century.
The chief merit of this song is the airy and pastoral correspondence between the words and music, and I believe its superiority to be owing to its having been a national song and tune, selected, according to the custom of the time, as a basis for harmony, and that it is not entirely a scholastic composition. The fact of it* having a natural drone bass would tend rather to confirm this view than otherwise. The bagpipe, the true parent of the organ, was then in use as a rustic instrument throughout Europe. The rote, too, which was in somewhat better estimation, had a drone, like the modern hurdy-gurdy, from the turning of its wheel. When the canon is sung, the key note may be sustained throughout, and it will be in accord­ance with the rules of modern harmony. But the foot, or burden, as it stands in the ancient copy, will produce a very indifferent effect on a modern ear,0 from its constantly making fifths and octaves with the voices, although such progressions were not forbidden by the laws of music in that age. No subject would be more natural for a pastoral song than the approach of Summer; and, curiously enough, the late Mr. Bunting noted down an Irish song from tradition, the title of which he translated " Summer is coming," and the tune begins in the same way. That is the air to which Moore adapted the words, " Rich and rare were the gems she wore." Having given a fac-simile of " Sumer is icumen in," taken from the
• The earliest specimen of secular part-music that has yet been discovered on the Continent, is an old French song, for three voices, the supposed production of a singer and poet, by name Adam de la Hale, called Le Boitenx d'Arras, who.was in the service of the Comte de Provence. The discovery has been recently made and communicated by M. Fetis, in his Revue Musicale. " It may be placed about the year 1280, if a dilettante of the discantus of the following age has not experimentalised on the melody left by De la Hale, as on a tenor or Canto fermo; since the other songs, in similar notation, are not in counterpoint; and the manuscript may be assigned to the fourteenth century." It is given in Kiesewetter's History of Music.
'The Musical Notation in this MS. (Harl. 978) is throughout the same. Only two forms of note are used with occasional ligatures. " Sumer Is icumen in" is on the
back of page 0, and just after it is an Antiphon In praise of Thomas a Becket. At page 12 we have the musical scale in letters, exactly corresponding with the scale of Guido, with the ut, re, mi, fa, &c, but only extending to two octaves and four notes, without even the "e e," said to have been added by his pupils. At the back of that page is an explanation of the intervals set to music, to impress them on the memory by singing, and examples of the ligatures used in the notation of the manuscript. At page 8 is a hymn, " Ave gloiiosa mater Salvatoris," with Latin and Norman French words, in score in three parts, on fifteen red lines undivided, and with three clefs fortlio voices. The remainder of the musical portion of the manuscript consists of hymns, &c, in one or two parts,
«We ought, perhaps, to except the lover of Scotch Reels.

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III