Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king

Before we start in on our exploration of the Haydn quartets, I thought I’d put some music on the blog to welcome Springtime and Easter; it will give you something extra to listen to (or, of course, ignore) over the holidays.

There is loads and loads of music about Spring, but – wonderful though some of it may be – I’ve tried to skip the really obvious stuff (the Seasons, the Rite of Spring, etc.) while, at the other end of the spectrum,  avoiding anything that’s a bit too quirky (though I more than occasionally like quirky, so maybe…)

Here, to start off with, from Britten’s Spring Symphony, is a setting of a poem by Thomas Nashe (it also supplied the title of this post):

Spring, the Sweet Spring

Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The palm and may make country houses gay,
Lambs frisk and play, the shepherds pipe all day,
And we hear aye birds tune this merry lay:
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit,
In every street these tunes our ears do greet:
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!

Thomas Nashe (November 1567 – c. 1601)

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Benjamin Britten – Britten: Spring Symphony Op. 44: Spring, the sweet spring

…young lovers meet, hmmm… I’m not sure that Nashe would have been happy about this particular vernal meeting of lovers, who break most of our social taboos in one go by not only being brother and sister but – good grief! – twins!

Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks – Die Walküre, Act 1, Scene 3: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (Siegmund)

Yes, it’s Wagner; Siegmund and Sieglinde’s love duet at the end of Act 1 of The Valkyrie (go on, have a listen, it won’t do any permanent damage, I promise; and you might even like it!)

Poets, being poets, in my (admittedly, very limited) experience, rarely agree about anything. So, when Gerard Manley Hopkins asserts that

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring

you can bet your life that someone, sometime (five centuries earlier, for instance) has averred exactly the opposite:

Rose, liz, printemps, verdure.

Rose, liz, printemps, verdure.
Fleur, baume et tres douce odour.
Belle, passes en doucour.
Et tous les biens de Nature
Avez, dont je vous aour.
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Rose, liz, printemps, verdure.
Fleur, baume et tres douce odour;
Et quant toute creature
Seurmonte vostre valour.
Bien puis dire et par honnour:

Rose, liz, printemps, verdure.
Fleur, baume et tres douce odour.
Belle, passes en doucour.

Rose, lily, spring, greenery.
Flower, balm and sweetest perfume
Beauty, you surpass them in sweetness.
And all the gifts of nature
You have, for which I adore you.

Rose, lily, spring, greenery.
Flower, balm and sweetest perfume
And since all creatures
You surpass in worth
I must say in all honor:

Rose, lily, spring, greenery.
Flower, balm and sweetest perfume
Beauty, you surpass them in sweetness.

Guillaume de Machaut  (c. 1300 – April 1377)

Guillaume de Machaut – Rose, liz, printemps

And, finally, to come almost full circle (he taught the young Britten) one of Frank Bridge’s most popular works, Enter Spring:

Bridge, Frank – Bridge: Enter Spring

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