Sunday, January 5, 2020

2019-’20 Murfin Winter Holidays Music Festival—The Gloucester Wassail For Twelfth Night

The Gloucester Wassail--Waverly Consort

This evening is Twelfth Night, the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany (more about that tomorrow in the last entry of the Murfin Winter Holidays Music Festival) and the end of the Christmas Season.  In England especially it was one last eruption of gaiety and mirth before the more somber and sacred reflection of the Epiphany—somewhat analogous to Mardis Gras or Carnival before Lent.

17th Century tenants present the wassail bowl to the Lord of the Manner and his family singing to the accompaniment of bagpipe, flutes, horns, and drums.  The Land Lord was expected to reciprocate with meats, puddings, pies, and other drink including ale and gin or brandy.
In the Middle Ages and Renaissance it was the climax of the caroling and street revelry that followed Christmas Day and was marked with dancing, a sexual cavorting—the subject of William Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night— and costumed revelry often evoking the Holy King and semi-pagan masquerades. Mostly it was celebrated by caroling for wassail, a hot mulled wine or cider prepared and served in bowls.  Often a landlord’s peasants and tenants came bearing large wassail bowls for the lord of the manor in exchange for lavish gifts of food and other beverages.  So popular was the beverage and custom that there were a number of songs about it that asked—or demanded—the hospitality of the land lord at whose door the carolers appeared.  The most familiar is the gay Here We Come A-wassailing, But there were several others from different regions of the Realm, each of which might variant local lyrics set to any number of folk tunes.

A 19th Century engraving of the Holly King with a wassail bowl riding the Yule Goat on Twelfth Night
The Gloucester Wassail got its current name because folk song collector Cecil Sharp recalled first hearing it sung by William Bayliss of Buckley and Isaac Bennett of Little Sodbury, both in Gloucestershire.  He set down the lyrics combined from his two sources in his 1916 book English Folk Songs, Collected and Arranged with Pianoforte Accompaniment by Cecil J Sharp.
Earlier versions referenced it first being sung around 1780, but it was probably far older.    Forms of the song were printed in 1838 by William Chappell, 1857 by Robert Bell, and 1868 by William Henry Husk.
Another great folk song collector and arranger, Ralph Vaughn Williams, recorded the melody now most commonly sung in 1909 by an anonymous Gloucester man at the Swan Inn in Pembridge, Herefordshire.  Williams first published the carol with those words in 1913, but when he included the song in his 1928 Oxford Book of Carols he used the words by Sharp. In this form it has become a popular piece in Britain.

Celebrating Twelfth Night in modern Gloucestershire.  The Scottish style tartan kilts are inauthentic to the region, but who cares.
The Gloucester Wassail is one of the most forthright in its demands among its cousins.  The final three verses spell it out frankly:

Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best
Then we hope that your soul in heaven may rest
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small
Then down shall go butler, bowl and all.
Be here any maids? I suppose here be some;
Sure they will not let young men stand on the cold stone!
Sing hey O, maids! come trole back the pin,
And the fairest maid in the house let us all in.
Then here’s to the maid in the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in.

Waverly Consort with Kay (bottom left) and Michael (bottom center) Jaffee.

Today we feature a recording from the Waverly Consort Christmas directed by Michael Jaffee.  The American early music ensemble which specialized in performing music from medieval and Renaissance times helped fuel a surge of interest in early music over the last half century.  It was founded and led by Michael Jaffee and Kay Cross in New York City in 1960 and the two married a year later.  The loose ensemble of from 5 to 12 performers on period instruments often did shows in carefully researched period costume with songs artfully connected by troubadour or bard poetic narration.  The group officially retired in the early 21st Century.  Michael Jaffee died on June 15, 2019 at the age of 81.

No comments:

Post a Comment