Sumer is icumen in
|Canon by Unknown;|
speculated to be W. de Wycombe
speculated to be W. de Wycombe
|Language||Wessex dialect of Middle English|
The line translates approximately to "Summer has come in" or "Summer has arrived" (Roscow 1999,[page needed]). The song is written in the Wessex dialect of Middle English. Although the composer's identity is unknown today, it may have been W. de Wycombe. The manuscript in which it is preserved was copied between 1261 and 1264 (Wulstan 2000, 8).
It is sometimes called the Reading Rota because the earliest known copy of the composition, a manuscript written in mensural notation, was found at Reading Abbey; it was probably not drafted there, however (Millett 2004). The British Library now retains this manuscript (Millett 2003a).
A rota is a type of round, which in turn is a kind of part song. To perform the round, one singer begins the song, and a second starts singing the beginning again just as the first got to the point marked with the red cross in the first figure below. The length between the start and the cross corresponds to the modern notion of a bar, and the main verse comprises six phrases spread over twelve such bars. In addition, there are two lines marked "Pes", two bars each, that are meant to be sung together repeatedly underneath the main verse. These instructions are included (in Latin) in the manuscript itself:
|"Hanc rotam cantare possunt quatuor socii. A paucio/ribus autem quam a tribus uel saltem duobus non debet/ dici preter eos qui dicunt pedem. Canitur autem sic. Tacen/tibus ceteris unus inchoat cum hiis qui tenent pedem. Et cum uenerit/ ad primam notam post crucem, inchoat alius, et sic de ceteris./ Singuli de uero repausent ad pausaciones scriptas et/non alibi, spacio unius longe note."||Four companions can sing this round. But it should not be sung by fewer than three, or at the very least, two in addition to those who sing the pes. This is how it is sung. While all the others are silent, one person begins at the same time as those who sing the ground. And when he comes to the first note after the cross [which marks the end of the first two bars], another singer is to begin, and thus for the others. Each shall observe the written rests for the space of one long note [triplet], but not elsewhere.|
"Sumer is icumen in" in modern notation:
The celebration of summer in "Sumer is icumen in" is similar to that of spring in the French poetic genre known as the reverdie (lit. "re-greening"). However, there are reasons to doubt such a straightforward and naïve interpretation. The language used lacks all of the conventional springtime-renewal words of a reverdie (such as "green", "new", "begin", or "wax") except for springþ, and elements of the text, especially the cuckoo and the farmyard noises, potentially possess double meanings. "It is the wrong bird, the wrong season, and the wrong language for a reverdie, unless an ironic meaning is intended" (Roscow 1999, 188, 190, 193).
Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu
Awe bleteþ after lomb
lhouþ after calue cu
murie sing cuccu
Wel singes þu cuccu
ne swik þu nauer nu
Sing cuccu nu • Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu • Sing cuccu nu (Millett 2003b)
Summer[a] has arrived,
Sing loudly, cuckoo!
The seed is growing
And the meadow is blooming,
And the wood is coming into leaf now,
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!
You sing well, cuckoo,
Never stop now.
Sing, cuckoo, now; sing, cuckoo;
Sing, cuckoo; sing, cuckoo, now! (Millett 2003d)
The translation of "bucke uerteþ" is uncertain. Some translate the former word as "buck-goat" and the latter as "turns" or "cavorts", but the current critical consensus is that the line is the stag or goat "farts" (Millett 2003c; Wulstan 2000, 8).
Christian version in LatinEdit
pro vitis vicio
Filio non parcens
exposuit mortis exicio
Qui captivos semiuiuos a supplicio
Vite donat et secum coronat
in celi solio
The heavenly farmer,
owing to a defect in the vine,
not sparing the Son,
exposed him to the destruction of death.
To the captives half-dead from torment,
He gives them life and crowns them with himself
on the throne of heaven.
†written "χρ̅icola" in the manuscript (see Christogram).
Renditions and recordingsEdit
- A boys' choir sings the rota at the climax of Benjamin Britten's Spring Symphony (Opus 44, first performed 1949) (Spicer n.d.)
- The opening ceremony of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich included a performance of this rota. Children danced to the music around the track of the stadium (Compazine 2013).
- The English Singers made the first studio recording in New York, ca. 1927, released on a 10-inch 78rpm disc, Roycroft Living Tone Record No.159, in early 1928 (Taylor 1929, 12; Hoffmann 2004; Haskell 1988, 115–16).
- A second recording, made by the Winchester Music Club, followed in 1929. Released on Columbia (England) D40119 (matrix number WAX4245-2), this twelve-inch 78rpm record was made to illustrate the second in a series of five lectures by Sir George Dyson, for the International Educational Society, and is titled Lecture 61. The Progress Of Music. No. 1 Rota (Canon): Summer Is A Coming In (Part 4) (Leslie 1942; Siese n.d.).
- For similar purposes, E. H. Fellowes conducted the St. George's Singers in a recording issued ca. 1930 on Columbia (US) 5715, a ten-inch 78rpm disc, part of the eight-disc album M-221, the Columbia History of Music by Ear and Eye, Volume One, Period 1: To the Opening of the Seventeenth Century (Leslie 1942; Hall 1948, 578).
- The London Madrigal Group, conducted by T.B. Lawrence, recorded the work on 10 January 1936. This recording was issued later that year on Victrola 4316 (matrix numbers OEA2911 and OEA2913), a ten-inch 78rpm disc (Hall 1948, 578).
- Cardiacs side project Mr and Mrs Smith and Mr Drake recorded an arrangement of the song on their self-titled album in 1984 (Mr Spencer 2011).
- Richard Thompson's own arrangement is the earliest song on his album 1000 Years of Popular Music (2003 Beeswing Records) (Deusner 2006).[b]
- Emilia Dalby and the Sarum Voices covered the song for the album Emilia (2009 Signum Classics) (Hyperion Records n.d.).
- Post-punk band The Futureheads perform the song a cappella for their album Rant (2012 Nul Records) (McAlpine 2012).
In the 1938 film, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Little John (Alan Hale Sr.) is whistling the melody of the song just before he first meets Robin Hood played by Errol Flynn (Curtiz & Keighley 1938, 20:37–20:44). According to Lisa Colton, "Although it appears only this once, in that fleeting moment the tune serves to introduce the character through performance: the melody was presumably sufficiently recognisable to be representative of medieval English music, but perhaps, more importantly, the fact that Little John is whistling the song emphasizes his peasant status...In Robin Hood, Little John's performance of 'Sumer is icumen in' locates him socially as a contented, lower class male, a symbol of the romanticized ideal of the medieval peasant" (Colton 2017, 31).
Sumer is Icumen in,
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
Grows the seed and blows the mead,
And springs the wood anew;
Ewe bleats harshly after lamb,
Cows after calves make moo;
Bullock stamps and deer champs,
Now shrilly sing, cuckoo!
Wild bird are you;
Be never still, cuckoo!
This piece was parodied as "Ancient Music" by the American poet Ezra Pound (Lustra, 1916):
Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.
Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,
So 'gainst the winter's balm.
Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.
Sing, cuckoo sing,
Death is a-comin in,
Sing, cuckoo sing.
death is a-comin in.
Another parody is Plumber is icumen in by A. Y. Campbell:
Plumber is icumen in;
Bludie big tu-du.
Bloweth lampe, and showeth dampe,
And dripth the wud thru.
Bludie hel, boo-hoo!
Thawth drain, and runneth bath;
Saw sawth, and scruth scru;
Bull-kuk squirteth, leake spurteth;
Wurry springeth up anew,
Tom Pugh, Tom Pugh, well plumbes thu, Tom Pugh;
Better job I naver nu.
Therefore will I cease boo-hoo,
Woorie not, but cry pooh-pooh,
Murie sing pooh-pooh, pooh-pooh,
- While Middle English sumer is related to Modern English "summer", Crystal (2004, 108) states it means "spring". Millett notes that the Middle English word "sumer" "extends over a longer period than the modern one" Millett (2003c).
- "1000 Years of Popular Music kicks off with 'Summer is icumen in', which is the original summer anthem and could be heard blasting from many a tavern and castle during the balmy middle months of 1260."
- Albright, Daniel (2004). Modernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-01267-4.
- Anon. (n.d.). ""Sumer is icumen in": An Old English Folk Song – Sheet Music, Midi and Mp3". MFiles. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
- ""Sumer is icumen in", MS Harley 978, f. 11v". British Library.
- Colton, Lisa (2017). Angel song: Medieval English music in history. London: Routlege. p. 31. ISBN 9781472425683.
- on YouTube
- Crystal, David (2004). Stories of English. New York: Overlook Press.
- Curtiz, Michael; Keighley, William (Directors) (1938). The Adventures of Robin Hood (Motion picture). Event occurs at 20:37–20:44.
- Deusner, Stephen M. (17 July 2006). "Richard Thompson 1,000 Years of Popular Music". Pitchfork. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
- Hall, David (1948). The Record Book: A Guide to the World of the Phonograph. New York: Oliver Durrell, Inc.
- Haskell, Harry (1988). The Early Music Revival: A History. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
- Hoffmann, Frank (2004). "Roycroft (Label)", Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9781135949495.
- Hyperion Records (n.d.). "Miri it is – "Sumer is icumen in"". Hyperion SIGCD141. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
- Leslie, George Clark, supervising editor (1942). "Fornsete, John (c. 1226): 'Sumer is icumen in' (The Reading Rota)". The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music, new edition, completely revised. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.
- McAlpine, Fraser (2012). "The Futureheads Rant Review". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
- Millett, Bella (2003a). ""Sumer is icumen in": London, British Library, MS Harley 978, f. 11v: Introduction". Wessex Parallel Web Texts website (Accessed 25 November 2014).
- Millett, Bella (2003b). ""Sumer is icumen in": London, British Library, MS Harley 978, f. 11v: Text". Wessex Parallel Web Texts website (Accessed 25 November 2014).
- Millett, Bella (2003c). ""Sumer is icumen in": London, British Library, MS Harley 978, f. 11v: Notes". Wessex Parallel Web Texts website (Accessed 25 November 2014).
- Millett, Bella (2003d). ""Sumer is icumen in": London, British Library, MS Harley 978, f. 11v: Translations". Wessex Parallel Web Texts website (Accessed 25 November 2014).
- Millett, Bella (2004). ""Sumer is icumen in": London, British Library, MS Harley 978, f. 11v: The Manuscript". Wessex Parallel Web Texts website (Accessed 25 November 2014).
- Minard, Jenny (2009). ""Sumer is icumen in" at Abbey Ruins". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
- Rogers, Jude. 2010. "Papa's Got a Brand New Bagpuss: How Sandra Kerr's Folk Roots for the Fondly Remembered 1970s Children's TV Show Has Influenced Today's Performers". The Guardian (Thursday 29 July).
- Roscow, G. H. (1999). "What is 'Sumer is icumen in'?" Review of English Studies 50, no. 198:188–95.
- Siese, Ray (n.d.). "Dyson Trust Discography".
- Mr Spencer (2011). "Ex-Cardiacs Tunesmith William D. Drake Writes Songs That Are Timeless, Bold and Beautiful". Louder Than War. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
- Spicer, Paul (n.d.). "Britten, Benjamin: Spring Symphony, Op. 44 (1949) 45' for soprano, alto and tenor soloists, chorus, boys' choir, and orchestra". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
- Taylor, Deems (1929). "Hear the English Singers", The World’s Work 58:p. 12
- Wulstan, David. (2000). "'Sumer is icumen in': A Perpetual Puzzle-Canon?". Plainsong and Medieval Music 9, no. 1 (April): 1–17.
- Bukofzer, Manfred F. (1944) "'Sumer is icumen in': A Revision". University of California Publications in Music 2: 79–114.
- Colton, Lisa (2014). "Sumer is icumen in". Grove Music Online (1 July, revision) (accessed 26 November 2014)
- Duffin, Ross W. (1988) "The Sumer Canon: A New Revision". Speculum 63:1–21.
- Falck, Robert. (1972). "Rondellus, Canon, and Related Types before 1300". Journal of the American Musicological Society 25, no. 1 (Spring): 38–57.
- Fischer, Andreas (1994). "'Sumer is icumen in': The Seasons of the Year in Middle English and Early Modern English". In Studies in Early Modern English, edited by Dieter Kastovsky, 79–95. Berlin and New York: Mouton De Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-014127-2.
- Greentree, Rosemary (2001). The Middle English Lyric and Short Poem. Annotated Bibliographies of Old and Middle English Literature 7. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-621-9.
- Sanders, Ernest H. (2001). "Sumer is icumen in". Grove Music Online (20 January, bibliography updated 28 August 2002) (accessed 26 November 2014).
- Schofield, B. (1948). "The Provenance and Date of 'Sumer is icumen in'". The Music Review 9:81–86.
- Taylor, Andrew, and A. E. Coates (1998). "The Dates of the Reading Calendar and the Summer Canon". Notes and Queries 243:22–24.
- Toguchi, Kōsaku. (1978). "'Sumer is icumen in' et la caccia: Autour du problème des relations entre le 'Summer canon' et la caccia arsnovistique du trecento". In La musica al tempo del Boccaccio e i suoi rapporti con la letteratura, edited by Agostino Ziino, 435–46. L'ars nova italiana del Trecento 4. Certaldo: Centro di Studi sull'Ars Nova Italiana del Trecento.
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