Sumer Is Icumen In

A ‘rota’ or round of great antiquity, the original MS of which is preserved in the British Museum.

So important are the questions raised by this document, in connection not only with the history of the English School, but with that of Mediaeval Music in all other European countries, that we cannot too earnestly recommend them to the consideration of all who are interested in tracing the development of our present system to its earliest sources.

The MS. Was first described by Mr. Wanley, the famous antiquary, who, acting in the capacity of Librarian to the Earl of Oxford, wrote an account of it in his Catalogue of the Harlaian MSS. About the year 1709; assigning to it no positive date, but pronouncing it to be by far the oldest example of the kind he had ever met with – an assertion which must be resolved with all respect, since Mr. Wanley was not only a learned antiquary, but an accomplished musician.

In the year 1770 Sir John Hawkins mentioned the rota in the first volume of his History of Music, illustrating his description by a copy of the Guida, in the original square balck notes, followed by a not very correct solution of the canon, scored for six voices, including gthose which sing the Pes. Hawkins imagines the term ‘rota’ toapply to the Latin rather than the English works; and refers the MS. To ‘about the middle of the 15th century, on the ground that the music is of the kind called Cantus figuratus, which appears to have been the invention of John of Dunstable, who wrote on the cantus mensurabilis, and died in 1455.’ This statement, however, involves an anachronism which renders Hawkin’s opinion as to the date of the MS absolutely worthless.

Dr. Burney, in the second volume of his History, described the composition as not being much later than the 13th or 14th century, printed a copy of the Canon in the original mediaeval notation, and subjoined a complete score, more correct than that supplied by Hawkins, yet not altogether free from errors.

Ritson referred the MS to the middle of the 13th century; and fancied – not without reason – that neither Hawkins nor Burney cared to risk their reputation by mentioned a date which could scarcely fail to cause adverse criticism.

In 1819 Dr. Busby reprinted the rota, following Burney’s version of the score, nonte for note, including its errors, and referring the MS to the 15th century.

In April 1862 Sir Frederick Madden wrote some memoranda on the fly leaf of the volume, referring the entire MS., ‘except some writing on ff. 15-17’ (with which we are not concerned), to the 13th century; and stating his belief that ‘the earlier portion of this volume (i.e. that which contains the rota) was written in the Abbey of Reading, about the year 12409. Compare the Obits in the calendars with those in the calendar of the Cartulary of Reading in the MS. Cott. Vesp. April 1892.

In 1855 Mr. William Chappell described this MS. Minutely in his Popular Music of the Olden Time, illustrating his remarks by a facsimile of the MS; and, after much laborious research, collected evidence enough to lead him to the belief that it was written at the Abbey of Reading, by a monk named John of Fornsete, about the year 1226, or quite certainly more ore than ten years later.

For the grounds on which he bases this conclusion we must refer to his own writings on the subject. One of his discoveries, however, is so important that we cannot pass it over with special notice. The volume which contains the rota contains also a number of satirical poems, written in rhymed Latin by Gualterus Mahap (Walter Mapes, Archdeacon of Oxford). Among these is a satire entitled Apud avaros, bristling with puns, one of which closely concerns our present subject, and helps in no small degree, to establish the antiquity of the rota. The poet counsels his readers as to the best course to be pursued by those who wish to ‘move’ the Roman Law Courts. After numerous directions, each enforced by a pun, he writes as follows:

Commisso notario munera suffunde,
Statim causae subrahet, quando, ur, et unde,
Et formae subjiciet canones rotunda

Now, the significance of this venerable pun, as a proof of the antiquity of the rota, is very remarkable. In a poem, transcribed, as Sir Frederick Madden assures us, long before the middle of the 13th century, Walter Mapes, an English ecclesiastic, speaks of ‘subjecting Canons to the form of (the) round,’ with a homely maivete which proves that his readers must have been common, in England before the middle of the 13th century. Walter Mapes bears witness to the fact that the first English school, as represented by the rota, is at least a century and a half older than the first Flemish school as represented by the works of Dufay, and we are indebted to Chappell for the discovery of the jeu d’esprit in which the circumstances is recorded.

Turning from English to Continental critics, we first find the rota introduced to the German musical world by Forkel, who, in the year 1788, described it in his Allgemeine Geshichte der Musik; reproducing Burney’s copy of the Guida, in the old black square heading notation, and also his modernized score, in semibreves and minims, accompanying these by Wanley’s remarks, copied from the Harleian Catalogue.

To this he added a corollary of his own to the effect that though the MS proves this species of Canon to have been well known in the middle of the 15th century, and probably much earlier, the musicians of that period were not sufficiently learned to combine it with good harmony – assertions which lose much of their weight from the self evident fact that they rest upon information obtained entirely at second hand, and not even corroborated by examination of the original MS., which it is clear that Forkel never saw.

The next German critic to whom it occurred to touch on the subject was Ambros, who, in volume ii. of his great work, follows Forkel’s example, by quoting Wanley’s description, and, on the authority of Hawkins, referring the MS – which he himself clearly never say – to the middle of the 15th century. It is indeed quite certain that at this period at least Ambros’s knowledge of the history of English art was derived entirely from the pages of Hawkins and Burney.

In 1865 the subject was taken up by the Belgian savant Coussemaker, who described the Ms. as written in the year 1226 – or at the latest, 1236 – by John of Fornsete, ‘a Monk of the Abbey of Reading, in Berkshire.’ But the statement rests entirely on information derived from Mr. Chappell, Coussemaker himself never having seen the MS. True, in another work, he speaks more independently; and in his own name asserts the rota to have been written by ‘the Monk of Reading,’ before the year 1226. But he nowhere tells us that he examined the MS. for himself.

In 1868 the argument was resumed by Ambros, who, in the fourth volume of his History, confessed himself convinced by the arguments of Coussemaker, and undoubtedly refers the rota to the year 1226. But here again it is clear that the opinion is not his own; and that he himself never saw the original MS.

While receiving with due respect the judgment of the writers already quoted, we cannot but feel that in most cases their authority is weakened, almost to worthlessness, by the certainty that it rests on evidence collected entirely at second hand. Neither Forkel, Coussemaker, nor Ambros ever saw the original document; their statements, therefore, tend rather to confuse than to enlighten the inquirer. Still, great as are the anomalies with which the subject is surrounded, we do not believe them to be irreconcilable. Some critics have trusted to the peculiar counterpoint of the rota as the only safe guide to its probably antiquity.

Others have laid greater stress upon the freedom of its melody. We believe that the one quality can only be explained by references to the other, and that the student who considers them separately, and without special reference to the calligraphy of the MS., stands but a slender chance of arriving at the truth. We propose to call attention to each of these three points, beginning with that which seems to us the most important of all – the character and condition of the MS.

  1. The style of the handwriting corresponds so closely with that in common use during the earlier half of the 13th century that no one accustomed to the examination of English MSS. of that period can possible mistake it. So positive are the indications on this point, that Sir Frederick Madden – one of the most learned paleographers of the 19th century – did not hesitate to express his own conviction, in terms which leave no room for arguments. The present librarian, Sir E. Maunde Thompson, unhesitatingly endorses Sir F. Madden’s judgment; and the Paleographical Society has also corroborated it, in connection with an autotype facsimile referred to the year 1240.
  2. The mixed character of the part writing has puzzled many an able commentator; for, side by side with passages of rudest discant, it exhibits progressions which might well have passed uncensored in the far later days of Palestrina.
  3. Turning from the part writing to the melody, we find this pervaded by a freedom of rhythm, a merry graceful swing, immeasurably in advance of any kind of polyphonic music of earlier date than the Fa-las peculiar to the later decaeds of the 16th century – to which decades no critic has ever yet had the hardihood to refer the rota. But his flowing rhythm is not at all in advance of many a folk song of quite unfathomable antiquity. There merry grace of a popular melody is no proof of its late origin. The dates of such melodies are so uncertain, that the element of chronology may almost be said to have been eliminated from the history of the earlier forms of national music. In most cases the original poetry and music owed their origin, in all probability, to the same heart and voice. The melodies were not composed, but inspired. If the verses to which they were indebted for their existence were light and tripping, so were they. If the verses were gloomy, the melodies naturally corresponded with them. And because their authors, however unskilled they might be in in the theory of music, were in the constant habit of hearing church melodies sung in the ecclesiastical modes, they naturally conformed, in most cases, tot eh tonality of those venerable scales. We believe the melody of the rota to be an inspiration of this kind – a folk song, pure and simple, in the transposed Ionian Mode, owning its origin to the author either in the English or the Latin verses to which it is wedded.

The fact that no English rota of equal antiquity with this has as yet been brought to light proves nothing. The wonder is, not that we can find no similar examples, but that even this one should have escaped the wholesale destruction which devastated our Cathedral and Monastic Libraries, first, during the reign of King Henry VIII., and afterwards, during the course of the Civil Wars. Moreover, we must not forget that the Reading MS., though it contains only one rota, contains no less that three Latin antiphons, all tending to prove the early date at which the art of polyphonic composition was cultivated in England.

Sumer Is Icumen In Sheet Music

 Sumer Is Icumen In Lyrics

Original Lyrics

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing, cuccu;
Groweth sed
and bloweth med,
And springth the wode nu;
Sing, cuccu!

Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calue cu;
Bulluc sterteth,
Bucke uerteth,

Murie sing, cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes thu, cuccu;
Ne swic thu naver nu.

Sing, cuccu, nu; sing, cuccu;
Sing, cuccu; sing, cuccu, nu!

English Lyrics

Spring has arrived,
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
The seed is growing
And the meadow is blooming,
And the wood is coming into leaf now,
Sing, cuckoo!

The ewe is bleating after her lamb,
The cow is lowing after her calf;
The bullock is prancing,
The billy-goat farting,

Sing merrily, cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo,
You sing well, cuckoo,
Never stop now.

Sing, cuckoo, now; sing, cuckoo;
Sing, cuckoo; sing, cuckoo, now!