UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE
Latein the sixteenth century a ballad air began to appear in a number ofcollections of music. Its appeal was such that the melody remained popular wellinto the eighteenth century. It was known by various names, Robin is tothe greenwood gone, Robin Hood is to the greenwood gone, BonnySweet Robin or even simply Robin. There are many examples, yet wehave only the melody. It is as if it were so popular and so well known thatno-one bothered to write down the words.
The popularity of this ballad is easilyexplained. Apart from its attractive and wistful tune, the opening line bringstogether three ancient themes. First there is Robin, medieval hero, lover af)droving outlaw. Secondly there is the greenwood, a place of adventure andromance, and thirdly it recalls the old celebration of the arrival of summer,with its May-time festivities and excursions into the woods. Over the yearsEnglish writers and performers have reshaped this fusion, or confusion, ofhistory, legend and tradition, to suit themselves or their audiences. Estampiehas followed this practice in the present recording.
Thehistorical Robin Hood has been placed with some certainty early in thethirteenth 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. Theearliest surviving ballads of Robin Hood, however, were set down in thefifteenth century, and for these we only have words. Not until the sixteenthand seventeenth centuries do we have a really useful stock of words and tunesto sing of the adventures of the heroic outlaw.
While the Robin Hood legend was evolving, songsand dances were also composed to celebrate May-time and the annual revival ofthe Green Man and his home, the Greenwood. These festivals took place all overEngland, and elsewhere. Like the tales of Robin Hood, they were enjoyed at alllevels of society. In the course of time Maying and Robin became closelyassociated, while, from the French pastoral tradition, the outlaw acquired hisbeloved Marian.
Inthe present recording Estampie first evokes some of the sounds, sentiments andpersonalities of Robin Hood's time, then drawing on later ballads and dances tocelebrate the fact that Robin is to the greenwood gone.
Walther von der Vogelweide, acontemporary of the historical Robin Hood, a Minnesinger in the Germantroubadour tradition, was born in Austria about the year 1170 and spent hislife in the service of a series of noblemen, kings and emperors, recognised asone of the leading poets of his generation. His Paliistinalied (PalestineSong) is the only work of his for which the original melody has been preservedand in its words describes the Holy Land, which the poet may have visited withthe crusading Emperor Friedrich II.
Richard I, Coeur de Lion, was born in Oxford in1157 and in 1171 became Duke of Aquitaine, where he spent much of his time. Apoet and composer, in the tradition of his maternal great-grandfather, one ofthe first of the aristocratic troubadour poets, he spent two years, from 1192to 1194, as a prisoner in Austria. The story of his rescue by the minstrelBlondel is fictitious, but has had its operatic and dramatic uses. Ja nulshoms pris is the only one of his poems to survive with the music and waswritten during his imprisonment. Here he laments his fate, writing this song tocomfort himself alter two winters as a prisoner and using his own language,since he never had occasion to learn English.
Thesong of King Richard is appropriately followed by that of his supposed minstrelBlondel de Nesle, celebrating here the beginning of summer, A l'entrantd'este. Blondel's precise identity is not clear, but some have suggestedthat he might be Jehan II de Nesle. Whether nobleman or commoner, he enjoyedrespect as a poet in the Northern French trouvere tradition and the presentsong served as a model for a song by the thirteenth century trouvere Oede de laCouroierie.
KalendaMaya, acelebration of May Day, is by the troubadour Raimbault de Vaqueiras, arepresentative of the Southern French poetic tradition of Provence. The son ofa poor knight, Raimbault entered the service of the Marquis of Monferrat,earning his own knighthood in Sicily and joining in crusades. The present workis one of only seven that survive with their music, in this case apparently ajongleur melody, an estampie that he had heard played on the vielle. KalendaMaya is the earliest surviving example of an estampie, aninstrumental form with which it identifies itself in its text.
The anonymous thirteenth-century Englishconductus Novus miles sequitur (The new soldier follows) is an explicitreference to the murder, in 1170, of St Thomas-a-Becket, the Archbishop ofCanterbury, Chaucer's later holy blisful martyr. It is followed by athirteenth- century Estampie, an anonymous English example of this earlyinstrumental form. Clap, clap, par un matin s'en aloit Robin (Clip,clop, one morning Robin rode along) is a French three-part motet fromthe same century.
Specificreference to Robin Hood is found in an undated anonymous English composition,followed here by the three-part canon At robyn, gentyl robyn by theEnglish composer William Cornyshe, a musician, dramatist and actor of somedistinction, in the service of the English King Henry VII. The Wedding ofRobin Hood is anonymous, as is Under the Greenwood Tree a linefamiliar from Shakespeare's As You Like It. The anonymous EnglishSellenger's Round is dated to about 1500, and was to be the subject ofkeyboard variations by William Byrd a century later and variations by othercomposers in the twentieth century. The well known Greensleeves is all too
familiar, now, as in the time of Shakespeare. Its earlier origins areunknown.
Relatively little music by Henry Stoningsurvives. 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 usesa tune of that name, popular in England in the sixteenth century and used bycontemporary composers in a variety of ways. In some sources the melody ismatched to the words:
The leaves be greene, the nuts be browne,
Thaie hange so highe thaiewill not come downe.
Legendsof Robin Hood return in the anonymous Robin Hood and the curtaIl fryer (a friar with ashort habit) and Robin Hood and the Tanner.
The Pavane enjoyed popularity as asixteenth- and seventeenth-ce