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Sumer Is Icumen In, in a Miscellany

Sumer Is Icumen In, in a Miscellany

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1245

Shelfmark: Harley MS 978

Item number: f.11v

Length: 18.9

Width: 13

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

Placed in a compilation that mixes secular and religious writings, this famous page gives the Middle English rota (song for singing in rounds) called 'Sumer is icumen in' ("Summer is a'comin' in"). It is the only composition in Middle English in the volume, the rest being in French or Latin, but many of the other writings are, like it, for entertainment. The manuscript is believed to have been at Reading Abbey, but it probably was made at a workshop in Oxford and may have been commissioned by the notorious music-loving monk, William of Winchester.

'Sumer is icumen in' (also known as 'The Cuckoo Song') is the earliest known written four-part harmony in English music. Four singers sing the main melody in a round, one after the other, each starting as the previous singer reaches the red cross marked in the musical notes above the first line. Two more, lower voices, repeat the "sing cuccu, cuccu" to the music written in the lower right corner--the "cuckoo" birdsong of summer. If such lightheartedness is inappropriate for the occasion, the singers can switch to the alternative religious lyrics written in red. Instructions for singing the round appear in the black box. The musical stave has six lines to accommodate the range of notes.

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