King Henry VIII has come into fashion here just lately, first with Kate Shrewsday and followed up by NR Hatch. The posts reminded me of one of my favourite songs/melodies, Greensleeves, and the irrational disappointment I felt when various experts debunked the idea that Henry wrote it. Why I wanted him to, I know not. He was brilliant in many ways, but a despicable character nonetheless. Anyway, the main argument was that it follows an Italian style which only came to England after Henry’s death.
It appears, however, that there is convincing evidence that he did, in fact, compose it: a document in his hand, signed by him, setting it out. Expert analysis has confirmed this, as well as the fact that it was penned left-handed, which in those days only the king was able to do without risking being bumped off very promptly. Sinister people were regarded as children of Satan. That blows the arguments of those who deny it completely out of the water.
Henry certainly had the ability. He was a musician of note – lots of notes, actually – as evidenced by his many undisputed compositions like the Kynges Balade – Pastime with Good Company, and Grene Growith the Holy. He is reputed to have owned 78 flutes, 76 recorders, 14 trumpets, 10 trombones, and 5 bagpipes. Even at his most girthsome I doubt if he played all of them at once, though.
The wistful effect of Greensleeves is typical of the Dorian mode. This is not a true minor key, but can be played all on all white notes on the piano from A: ABCDEFG, where one has (T=Tone; S=Semitone) TSTTTST. No actual minor key can avoid black notes. ‘Drunken Sailor’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ are other examples of this mode. People are conditioned to minor, though, and so there is a tendency in many versions to introduce semitones which actually don’t belong
I enjoy playing Greensleeves on piano, violin, recorder or harmonica and wish I could try it on guitar; but I have never got the hang of that. Whether the style is said to be Italian or not, to me it has a quintessentially English feel. I find it has the same haunting effect as that gem among folk tunes, She Moved Through the Fair.
One of the most famous treatments of the melody is the Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It incorporates the lesser-known second melody, and is truly music to stir one’s gentler emotions.
I was going to lower the tone of this post by referring to the Herman’s Hermits comic song, ‘I’m Henery the eighth I am I am’ – but I won’t.
© October 2012 Colonialist (WordPress/Blogs24)