“Sumer is icumen in”

This remarkable 4-part round is one of the best known English compositions in the world. “Summer has come” was notated over 700 years before the British Invasion, but it carries the same revolutionary power as the Fab Four. This was the first round (extant notated round, at least) written for so many voices. Furthermore, its harmonic structure differs considerably from what we’ve encountered so far, with sonorous major triads ringing out on practically every beat. (Evidence suggests that this practice was a left-over from the Viking invasions.) Could this playful song be, in fact, “the first masterpiece in music”?

The text, first in the original Wessex dialect of Middle English then in modern English:

[Sumer is icumen in – lhude sing, cuccu! Groweth sed and bloweth med and springeth the wude nu. Sing cuccu! Awe bleteth after lomb, lhouth after calve cu; bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth – murie sing, cuccu! Cuccu, cuccu – wel sings thu, cuccu! Ne swik thu naver nu.]

[Summer has come! Loudly sing cuckoo! Seed is growing, the flowers are blowing in the field, the woods are newly green. The ewe bleats after her lamb, the cow lows after her calf. The bull starts, the buck runs into the brush. Merrily sing cuckoo! That’s it, keep it up!]

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