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Classical Notes

Pieces of Spring No. 1

Posted at 8:00 AM on May 2, 2007 by John Birge

Welcome May, and Classical Minnesota Public Radio's Pieces of Spring.

Every day, we'll play a springtime classic. Visit our online playlist to find each day's spring piece or, in the Twin Cities, listen to 99.5 every morning at 8. Enter the correct title here, and you have another chance to win fresh flowers delivered to your door for a year! Check back here every day to see if you got it right.

Yesterday's piece was Thomas Morley's "Now is the Month of Maying:"

Now is the month of maying,
When merry lads are playing, fa la,
Each with his bonny lass
Upon the greeny grass. Fa la.

The Spring, clad all in gladness,
Doth laugh at Winter's sadness, fa la,
And to the bagpipe's sound
The nymphs tread out their ground. Fa la.

Fie then! why sit we musing,
Youth's sweet delight refusing? Fa la.
Say, dainty nymphs, and speak,
Shall we play at barley-break? Fa la.

The “Barley-break” was a popular game in Springtime, played in teams of couples. One couple would try to catch the other couples while they dashed between stacks of barley in the fields, and the other couples might break apart to avoid being caught. Many madrigals had both subtly and blatantly risqué themes. Morley may have also used the phrase to allude to another activity, also involving hay…as in "a roll in the hay."