Posted in Vocal Polyphony


This is a list of catches that I’ve listened to. Their overall form is much longer, and unlike rounds, they don’t have folk and traditional origins. Instead, they are written by composers for entertainment, usually with humorous and bawdy intent in mind.

Henry Purcell – Once in Our Lives

A drinking song, whose melody is in c minor. It may be structured as three separate musical sentences, although, in my opinion, the first two lines form a longer sentence or even a period. The rhythm is interesting, and the harmony formed is i – iv – V – i – V – i.

Michael Wise – A Catch on the Midnight Cats

I was quite amused that the cats can also be subjects for catches. The version I’ve listened to even had singers meow and purr, which made it more entertaining. The catch is in 3/4, written in g minor, modulating to the relative Bb major and returning, sometimes not so clearly between the two, as F# is only utilized twice to firmly establish g minor. The overall distance between the entrances of the voices is quite large, with the following voice beginning only after 16 bars. The melodic structure of one line is first, an eight-bar sentence in g minor, which modulates to Bb major and returns back to g minor, and similarly the second sentence, also eight bars long.

Harmony could look something like this, first sentence:

g: i – V – i – vii               g: i – V (no F#)

Bb: V – I – ii – V – vi

Second sentence:

g: i –   v – i – vii                  g: i – V – i

Bb: V –  I – ii – V –  vi

John Eccles – My Man John

The mind can surely wander off into indecency with this one, despite reading the short textual introduction, double entendre still persists: “Maid Mary having broke the handle of her hair broom and hearing that (Manservant John) had a long stick that would fit it, desired him to put it in for her.”

The whole catch is very long – thirty bars until the next voice enters. The tune is in Bb major with a very interesting form that consists of repetition of certain parts in one melodic line. For example in the first line, it is almost a ternary aba form. Harmony is I – IV – V – I, then I – ii – V/V – V and so on – for the rest of the composition, it revolves around the tonic, subdominant and dominant.

Henry Purcell – Pox on You for a Fop

This catch contains quite some toilet humor.

Luffman Atterbury – Hodge Told Sue

Finally, a catch with hocket – combination of rests and notes, which in catches always results in words from different voices merging in funny or vulgar ways. Indeed, the lyrics for this catch in themselves are quite bland and likely to cause no laugh or offense:

“Hodge told Sue he loved her as his life,
And if she’d be kind he would make her his wife.
Hodge told Sue he would make her his wife,
Which tickl’d her fancy and kindled love’s fire.
Fond love then prevailed, and he had his desire,
Then left in the lurch, again and again,
With grief told her tale, but ’twas all in vain.”

When all three parts are sound though, we get:

“Hodge tickled her tail, Hodge tickled her tail…”

Tail is, of course, the vulgar slang for female genitalia.

Henry Purcell – One, Twice, Thrice, I Julia Tried

Henry Purcell – Sir Walter

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