GREENSLEEVES VARIATIONS: Traditional, Jazz Waltz & Burlesque Renditions
Everybody knows the song “Greensleeves,” right? But do you know how the song got its name? I did not until today.
At the time this song emerged during the Elizabethan era in England, some 500 years ago, the word “green” had sexual connotations. The phrase “a green gown” was a reference to the way that grass stains might be seen on a woman’s dress sleeves after she had engaged in sexual intercourse outdoors.
Thus “Greensleeves” had the same connotation as the “red light district” does today. And that’s what inspired my Burlesque version of the song (see below).
There is also a mistaken belief that “Greensleeves” was composed by Henry VIII for his lover and future queen consort Anne Boleyn. Boleyn allegedly at first rejected King Henry’s attempts to seduce her. And this rejection may be referred to in the song when the writer’s love “cast me off discourteously”.
Here are the lyrics of the first printed version of the song:
- Alas my love, ye do me wrong,
- to cast me off discourteously:
- And I have loved you oh so long
- Delighting in thy companie.
But the music is based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after Henry’s death, making it more likely to be Elizabethan in origin.
For me, personally, “Greensleeves” stands for musical resurrection of sorts. It was the first new song I learned to play on my old antique piano when I returned to music in 2007 after about a two-decade hiatus. I had simply lost my interest in music while working as a war correspondent during most of those two decades. And when music came back to me in late 2007, it was a gusher. You can also see at the end of this message my first recording of Greensleeves in March 2008.
This version of “Greensleeves” opens with a 20-second clip by a French vocalist – Nolwenn Leroy (born Sep 28, 1982 in Saint-Renan, Brittany, France). She rose to fame after winning the second series of the French television reality show, Star Academy. Her soulful rendition of the “Greensleeves” is a perfect overture to my traditional version of the famous song.
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As you saw earlier, “Greensleeves” had the same connotation as the “red light district” does today. And that’s what inspired my Burlesque version of the song…
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And now, here’s again my first recording of Greensleeves from over five years ago (March 2008):
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