Deuteromelia 1: “As it fell on a holy day” or the ballad of John Dory

Song: As it fell on a holy day (the ballad of John Dory)

From : Deuteromelia, or, the Second Part of Musicks melodie, or melodius Musicke, of Pleasant Roundelaies; K. H. mirth, or Freemens Songs, and such delightfull Catches

Composer (or transcriber) Thomas Ravenscroft

Published 1609

As it fell on a holy day“, the first song of Thomas Ravenscroft‘s Deuteromelia, is unusual because it is a round that tells a story, in this case the ballad of John Dory. Ravenscroft placed this song in the Freemans Songs of 3 Voices section, which is made up of 3 part songs – not rounds. Normally a round would not be a good ballad vehicle, but this 3 part round is set up so that all three parts line up on the same words every 3rd iteration of the tune. More on that later.

This song, or some version thereof, persisted long enough for the lyrics to be collected by Child in his famous 19thcentury collection, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.

Here is a summary of the song’s story. Note that although it is referred to as “The Ballad of John Dory,” John Dory is the villain, not the hero. On a holy day, John Dory, likely a pirate captain, mounts a horse and sets out for Paris. There he meets King John of France. He offers to bring the King captive Englishmen in return for a pardon. On the sea, John Dory encounters a ship captained by Nicholl of Cornwall. Nicholl takes John Dory prisoner after a sea battle in which sails are hoisted, cannons plied, and trumpets brayed.

The king mentioned might be John II of France (1319-1364) who was known as “John the Good” and reigned from 1350 – 1364.

The tune itself is fairly simple and repetitive, with the one twist that there is a lead section which is never repeated.

Original and Melody

Here is the original notation from Deuteromelia:

original notation

The melody sounds like this:  melody   or in a lower key:  lower melody

Here is what it sounds like in canon:  canon   or in lower canon: lower canon

Word Patterns and how it lines up

Now how do the words line up when singing in canon? Here is the word pattern for the first verse:

  1. As it fell on a holy day,
  2. As it fell on a holy day,
  3.    rest   rest     holy day;
  4. And upon a holy tide-a,
  5.          upon a holy tide-a,
  6.    rest    rest          tide-a;
  7. John Dory bought him an ambling Nag,
  8. John Dory bought him an ambling Nag,
  9.     rest                 rest            ambling Nag;
  10. To Paris for to ride-a.
  11. To Paris for to ride-a,
  12.   rest     rest      ride-a.

There is lots of repetition so that when voice one gets to line 3, voice two is on line 2, and voice three is on line 1 all singing the same words. Similarly when voice one is on line 6, voice two is on line 5, and voice three is on line 4.  These are the times the words align. Other times at least one voice is singing different words from the others.

Here is a modern transcription of the canon written out for the first verse:

first verse canon written out

first verse canon in a lower key

For another explanation, see here, under 3a. the Ravenscroft Ballads.

Transcriptions and Singing

You may notice that there are many verses. Sometimes the notes must be subdivided in order to fit all the words into the verse pattern. The transcription with all the verses is somewhat speculative in terms of how the words are distributed. In general I have tried to put the words where they fall when singing the piece, but you may do it differently. 

A modern transcription with all the verses

A modern transcription with verses in a lower key

For actual singing, it is probably easier to learn the melody and just look at the words while singing. The melody pattern is fairly easy, and trying to read the words and music together can get messy with so many verses. Most people pick up the tune quite quickly and then it is a matter of trying to fit the words in reasonably.

Just the words

Although it is somewhat complicated to explain, the round is really quite easy to learn and fun to sing! How often do you get to sing about a sea battle?

Other notes:

The text of “As if fell on a holy day” is also found in Child’s Ballads, number 284, or The English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Francis James Child, John Dory, number 284.

There is a reference to John Dory  in Beaumont and Fletcher’s Knight of the Burning Pestle (written 1607); Act II, scene iv, line 35 reads, “Would I had gone to Paris with John Dory.”

About jhkob

A music hobbyist making medieval and Renaissance music transcriptions available for non-profit non-commercial purposes. Have fun!
This entry was posted in Deuteromelia, Elizabethan, music, Ravenscroft, Renaissance, sheet music and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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