About this Recording
8.553442 - Under the Greenwood Tree
English  French  German 

UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE

UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE

 

Late in the sixteenth century a ballad air began to appear in a number of collections of music. Its appeal was such that the melody remained popular well into the eighteenth century. It was known by various names, Robin is to the greenwood gone, Robin Hood is to the greenwood gone, Bonny Sweet Robin or even simply Robin. There are many examples, yet we have only the melody. It is as if it were so popular and so well known that no-one bothered to write down the words.

 

The popularity of this ballad is easily explained. Apart from its attractive and wistful tune, the opening line brings together three ancient themes. First there is Robin, medieval hero, lover af)d roving outlaw. Secondly there is the greenwood, a place of adventure and romance, and thirdly it recalls the old celebration of the arrival of summer, with its May-time festivities and excursions into the woods. Over the years English writers and performers have reshaped this fusion, or confusion, of history, legend and tradition, to suit themselves or their audiences. Estampie has followed this practice in the present recording.

 

The historical Robin Hood has been placed with some certainty early in the thirteenth century. Several traditions date his birth in the reign of Henry II (1154-1189) and his rise to notoriety to the reign of Richard I (1189-1199), while that king was absent from England on a crusade. The earliest surviving ballads of Robin Hood, however, were set down in the fifteenth century, and for these we only have words. Not until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries do we have a really useful stock of words and tunes to sing of the adventures of the heroic outlaw.

 

While the Robin Hood legend was evolving, songs and dances were also composed to celebrate May-time and the annual revival of the Green Man and his home, the Greenwood. These festivals took place all over England, and elsewhere. Like the tales of Robin Hood, they were enjoyed at all levels of society. In the course of time Maying and Robin became closely associated, while, from the French pastoral tradition, the outlaw acquired his beloved Marian.

 

In the present recording Estampie first evokes some of the sounds, sentiments and personalities of Robin Hood's time, then drawing on later ballads and dances to celebrate the fact that Robin is to the greenwood gone.

 

John Peel

 

Walther von der Vogelweide, a contemporary of the historical Robin Hood, a Minnesinger in the German troubadour tradition, was born in Austria about the year 1170 and spent his life in the service of a series of noblemen, kings and emperors, recognised as one of the leading poets of his generation. His Paliistinalied (Palestine Song) is the only work of his for which the original melody has been preserved and in its words describes the Holy Land, which the poet may have visited with the crusading Emperor Friedrich II.

 

Richard I, Coeur de Lion, was born in Oxford in 1157 and in 1171 became Duke of Aquitaine, where he spent much of his time. A poet and composer, in the tradition of his maternal great-grandfather, one of the first of the aristocratic troubadour poets, he spent two years, from 1192 to 1194, as a prisoner in Austria. The story of his rescue by the minstrel Blondel is fictitious, but has had its operatic and dramatic uses. Ja nuls homs pris is the only one of his poems to survive with the music and was written during his imprisonment. Here he laments his fate, writing this song to comfort himself alter two winters as a prisoner and using his own language, since he never had occasion to learn English.

 

The song of King Richard is appropriately followed by that of his supposed minstrel Blondel de Nesle, celebrating here the beginning of summer, A l'entrant d'este. Blondel's precise identity is not clear, but some have suggested that he might be Jehan II de Nesle. Whether nobleman or commoner, he enjoyed respect as a poet in the Northern French trouvere tradition and the present song served as a model for a song by the thirteenth century trouvere Oede de la Couroierie.

Kalenda Maya, a celebration of May Day, is by the troubadour Raimbault de Vaqueiras, a representative of the Southern French poetic tradition of Provence. The son of a poor knight, Raimbault entered the service of the Marquis of Monferrat, earning his own knighthood in Sicily and joining in crusades. The present work is one of only seven that survive with their music, in this case apparently a jongleur melody, an estampie that he had heard played on the vielle. Kalenda Maya is the earliest surviving example of an estampie, an instrumental form with which it identifies itself in its text.

 

The anonymous thirteenth-century English conductus Novus miles sequitur (The new soldier follows) is an explicit reference to the murder, in 1170, of St Thomas-a-Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Chaucer's later holy blisful martyr. It is followed by a thirteenth- century Estampie, an anonymous English example of this early instrumental form. Clap, clap, par un matin s'en aloit Robin (Clip, clop, one morning Robin rode along) is a French three-part motet from the same century.

 

Specific reference to Robin Hood is found in an undated anonymous English composition, followed here by the three-part canon At robyn, gentyl robyn by the English composer William Cornyshe, a musician, dramatist and actor of some distinction, in the service of the English King Henry VII. The Wedding of Robin Hood is anonymous, as is Under the Greenwood Tree a line familiar from Shakespeare's As You Like It. The anonymous English Sellenger's Round is dated to about 1500, and was to be the subject of keyboard variations by William Byrd a century later and variations by other composers in the twentieth century. The well known Greensleeves is all too familiar, now, as in the time of Shakespeare. Its earlier origins are unknown.

 

Relatively little music by Henry Stoning survives. He himself lived in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and her successor, King James I. His Browning my dere, on the theme The Leaves be Green, is true matter for a May morning. For five-part consort, Browning uses a tune of that name, popular in England in the sixteenth century and used by contemporary composers in a variety of ways. In some sources the melody is matched to the words:

 

The leaves be greene, the nuts be browne,

Thaie hange so highe thaie will not come downe.

 

Legends of Robin Hood return in the anonymous Robin Hood and the curtaIl fryer (a friar with a short habit) and Robin Hood and the Tanner.

 

The Pavane enjoyed popularity as a sixteenth- and seventeenth-century court dance, generally coupled with the faster Gaillarde. Derived from the name of Padua, or, according to some, from the stately strutting of the peacock (pavone) it found a place in early instrumental suites. Its duple metre forms a contrast with the triple metre of the following Gaillarde or Galliard, its name derived from the Italian gagliardo (vigorous, strong). The French composer Claude Gervaise collected and edited publications of dance music for Pierre Attaingnant, the publisher and bookseller. The two dances here included come from the fourth book, the first of two entrusted to him by Attaingnant in old age, issued in 1550.

 

Robin Hood and Maid Marian is an anonymous English work, succeeded here by The Green Man, a reference to the mysterious woodland figure identified with early pre-Christian beliefs. The melody appeared in the collection The Dancing Master, issued by the English bookseller and music publisher John Playford in 1651. The same fertile source brings Greenwood, Nottingham Castle and Green Goose Fair.

 

The anonymous Bonny Sweet Robin provides the tune for Sweet Angel of England and the basis for the Ricercarvariations by Thomas Simpson, an English musician who served abroad in Heidelberg and Buckeburg, before entering the service of King Christian IV of Denmark, patron of John Dowland.

 

When Kempe did dance alone (or Robin Hood, Maid Marian and Little John are gone) records, in its first title, the Elizabethan clown Will Kempe, a member of Shakespeare's company, famous for the jigs and mimed performance that followed the plays themselves. His nine-day morris dance from London to Norwich drew contemporary attention and an account from him of this nine-day wonder. Thomas Weelkes was distinguished as a madrigalist and employed as a church musician, although his conduct, evident from a description of him as a drunckard and notorious swearer and blasphemer, did little to enhance his career.

 

The celebration ends with praise of May in the anonymous Scottish O Lusty May, a sixteenth-century part-song in origin.

 

Keith Anderson

 


Estampie

Estampie, an ensemble that specialises in the performance of lively, secular music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, was co-founded in 1983 by Peter Bull, who led and inspired the group over the next seven years. The name of the group is taken from one of the earliest recorded forms of dance music in the Middle Ages. The ensemble makes use of an extensive range of period instruments, including the hurdy-gurdy, shawm, nakers, bagpipes, curtal, crumhorn, sackbut, schreierpfeife, gemshorn, cittern, lutes, viols and early forms of the flute and recorder. In number of musicians Estampie varies from a complement of three, including a singer, for music of the Middle Ages, to a full Renaissance band of four wind players and percussion for music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The ensemble has appeared at festivals and in historic buildings, principally in the North of England, and has served as Group in Residence with Yorkshire Arts.

John Bryan (Music Director): Alto shawm, Bass viol

Deborah Catterall' Mezzo-soprano, Percussion (track 22)

Graham Derrick: Recorders (tracks 10, 15, 16,20,21, 22, 26), Renaissance guitar, Cittern, Percussion

Susan Marshall' Rebecs, Medieval fiddle, Renaissance violin

John Peel' Lute, Bagpipe, Pipe & Tabor, Recorder (track 5), Bass curIal

Ian Richardson: Sopranino & Soprano Schnitzer Schreierpfeifen, Recorders (tracks 9,15, 26, 28), Tenor curIal, Percussion (track 24)

Ballad and Playford arrangements are by Graham Derrick

 

 


Close the window