Greensleeves : Work information

Anon ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Michel Dintrich (Guitar)

This work

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This recording

Ivan Pastor
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Track listing

  • Greensleeves 2:19 min


Greensleeves is an old English tune.

It is mentioned twice in Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor", and by other writers both of this period and later.

The tune dates from at least as far back as 1580, and there are examples of it having been adapted several times for use as a hymn. It has, at various points in history, been common practice to set sacred texts to popular songs, so this is not very unusual.

Many composers have quoted the tune in their works, including Vaughan Williams ("Sir John in Love"), Holst ("St Paul's Suite") and Busoni ("Turandot").

It has been suggested that Greensleeves was written by Henry VIII, but although he did compose, this seems extremely unlikely.

The Composers


A piece of music is attributed to "Anon" if we do not know who wrote it. There are several ways this can happen.

Some music, particularly folk songs, have been handed down for centuries without being written down. Presumably someone composed them, but by the time people like Bartók, Vaughan Williams and Percy Grainger  went around collecting folk songs, many attributed the tunes as "traditional". Thanks to the "Chinese Whispers" effect of passing on a tune by ear, the music had been shaped and changed with the times.

There are also written pieces that are difficult to identify. Before photocopiers existed, most music was copied by hand, making the age of the paper and handwriting not reliable indicators of age or provenance. If the title page gets lost, we can only listen to the music to see if the style is familiar. If the work is by somebody obscure, or if it isn't a good example of their work, it becomes more difficult to identify.

Copyright violation was abundant in the classical period, with many copying pieces and pretending that they had written them, or producing forgeries of the works of famous composers. As with paintings, once a piece has been identified as a fake, it can be virtually impossible to work out the composer.

There is a lot of debate about certain "anonymous" works. There are claims that "Greensleeves" was written by King Henry VIII although, having listened to some of the other things attributed to him, this seems rather unlikely. One must use a good sense of judgment and have a good musical ear to properly attribute these anonymous works to a particular composer.

Related: folk Traditional