Posted in Vocal Polyphony


This is a list of rounds I’ve listened to. You’ll notice that most don’t have authors, which is because of the traditional, folk roots of the rounds in general.

White sand and grey sand

This very easy and short round was given in the course material. It is written in 4/4 using whole and half notes, with very simple C major progression – I – ii – V – I. (Note that there are versions in other major keys.) The second 4 bars repeat the first 4, only a major third above, and then the last four bars close the melody. I should mention that what I found interesting about rounds in general is just reading about the lyrics. This tune in particular is about a street peddler who is trying to sell sand, which at the time when people used quill pens, was sprinkled on paper to absorb the extra ink. White sand was clean and new, while the grey sand was recycled.

Early to bed and early to rise

This one is based on the proverb “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” which is often associated with Benjamin Franklin. I couldn’t really find a vocal version online to listen to. While there are several instrumental versions, I found playing it on piano adequate enough. It is quite short, written in ¾ and mostly consisting of crochet, half and dotted half notes. The harmony is in F major with I – IV – V – I progression. The second sentence in the period is the repetition of the first, only a third lower, with a slight change in the second bar. More interestingly, there’s a kind of brief coda on the end.

Great Tom is cast – Henry or William Lawes, also contributed to Mr. White

This is even shorter than the previous two, with only two bars before the following voice enters. Written in common time, the simple harmony is in Bb major, starting on the dominant with many tones just appearing briefly and figuratively, V – (I – ii – V) – I – (vi). Tom is actually the name of the great bell of Christ Church in Oxford. The bell weighs over six tones and was cast in 1680.

Hey ho, nobody’s home

I really liked this one! It is a lament, perhaps dating from the 16th Century, although the origins are quite obscure with the earliest notated version published in 1609. It was a favorite tune of Christmas carolers. The melody is modal, in the natural minor scale. (Some notated it in E minor, some in D minor, and it could be in other minor keys.) Harmonically, it is in the simple modal progression – i 6/4 – v – I 6/4 – v. The beautiful melody is six bars long and the last bar also serves as a kind of mini transition or bridge for the repetition of the tune.

While searching for this round I also found an interesting set of variations on its theme for eight-part trombone choir by Scott Stinson, called “Hey Ho, Nobody Home: Romps on a Medieval Round.” I would love to analyze it in future, but more importantly, this gave me an idea to write my own instrumental composition using a round or catch theme as a starting point for a bigger piece. I also didn’t know romp could be a musical genre – a light fast-paced work.

Joan, come kiss me now

This is an Elizabethan round. It got me curious about the music of the period. Hopefully I will do a research about this and post it on the blog.

There are several transcriptions of the mensural notation, including 4/4 and 6/2 time signatures. Regardless, the minor-key melody starts in a modal way, with the 7th natural degree. Soon though, we have diatonicism – the 7th degree is raised as the leading tone. (I didn’t write the bar number since this depends on the version you find.) The melody ends on the dominant, leading back to the repetition. The resulting harmony is i 6/4 – VII – i6/3 – V (I found versions in c minor and g minor). There is also a popular 16th-17th century dance tune with the same name, although the tune itself is different.

London’s burning
With its somewhat tragic and dramatic theme, I was surprised that it is a nursery rhyme. It is said to be commemorating Great Fire of London in 1666, although the first notation was found in 1580 by Ravenscroft, under the name “Scotland it burneth”. The origins of the latter is also unclear. I saw some posts on reddit that it may refer to the Battle of Langside, then the witch hunts in Scotland, when James VI tortured and burned witches, or it could maybe refer to the winter fire festivals tradition. Either way, beside the G major given in the course material, I also found a version in F major. Melody is an eight-bar musical sentence with anacrusis on the beginning. Harmony is V – I – V – I. Note that the rhythm of “Scotland it burneth” or “Scotland’s burning” is a tiny bit diffent.
The huntsmen
I quite liked this longer, major-key tune. I found the bouncing rhythm with 6/8 time signature, especially the last four bars, very interesting. When all three voices join in, the resulting harmony is just lovely. The structure seems to be a longer, eight-bar sentence, plus a shorter, four-bar sentence on the end. Harmony is easy, as usual, with I – V – I – II – V – I progression.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s