‘the word of God incressis plenteouslie in us be singing of the psalmes and spiritual sangis…quhen thay heir it sung into their vulgar toung or singis it thame selfis with sweit melodie, then salt hay lufe their Lord God wuth hart and minde.’ – Prologue, Gude and Godlie Balladis
‘Euen on my iolie Lute, by night,
And trimling trible string,
I sall withall my minde and might,
Thy glorie gladlie sing.’
– Alexander Hume, His Recantation in ‘The hymnes and sacred songs’
The practice of writing sacred contrafacta, the rewriting of secular poetry sung to popular tunes and ballads, had been firmly established in Scotland by the time Elizabeth Melville wrote her poetry at the turn of the seventeenth century. The Gude and Godlie Balladis was published in Edinburgh in 1568 and was reprinted various times until the 1620s, and contains over a hundred protestant sacred parodies to be sung to such tunes as, ‘John come kiss me now’, ‘The hunts up’, and ‘The woods so wild’. While not including a note of music, the prologue (seen in the opening quote) clearly shows that these poems were meant to be sung, and furthermore, that the act of singing these parodies deepens their connection with god.
In ‘Ane Godlie sang’, Melville parodies the anonymous English love song ‘Come sweet love; let sorrow ceass’ which is sung to the popular tune ‘Barafaustus’s Dreme’. This tune was widespread throughout the seventeenth century, appearing in the Fitzwilliam Virginal book (c.1600), with accompanying lute and cittern tablature in Adrianus Valerius’s Nederlandsche Gedenck-Clank (1626), and in Aberdeen in John Forbes' Songs and Fancies (1662, 1666, 1682). Melville passionately recounts the original sin and preaches that salvation can only be found in Jesus Christ.
While it is likely that many of the sacred parodies were sung monophonically just to the tune, we were inspired for our performances by accounts of instrumental accompaniment, such as Scottish minister and poet Alexander Hume, accompanying himself singing sacred songs to his ‘Jolie lute’, and Elizabeth’s father James Melville who played virginal, lute, and cittern while a student at St. Andrews University.
For a musical performance of the complete sacred parodies please visit the online store to gain access to the full concert.