Amazing, isn’t it? three stand-alone poems that are interlocking like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. But was this achieved according some plan or just by blind chance? If such a complicated interaction requires planning in advance, the unavoidable conclusion must be that the most recent one:
Virtue is especially designed for the purpose.
This in turn would implicate that Vaughan Williams was the first to assemble from different times, sources and authors, an existing cycle of poetry. Doing so according a never revealed but rather complicated procedure dating from over two-and-a-half centuries before he was born.
It seems a ridiculous thought, but on this level of interaction a co-incidence seems no better option. So, without giving the matter a further thought, this article was originally based on the presupposition that Vaughan Williams did some excellent research. A lack of judgement causing me a very unpleasant moment when, long after I had completed my analysis, I had the misfortune to attend a life performance of some of Copland’s ‘Old American Songs’.
While listening, I realised to my horror the selected five songs from Copland’s ten independent traditionals are placed in the only possible order that makes them almost as close knit as the three partsongs. In respect of unity the somewhat lower level of interaction is roughly compensated by the almost double number of lucky winners. Resulting in a serious threath to the very foundation of my reasoning; the certainty of Virtue to be reduced in precise accordance to its author’s intentions.
To provide the sequel of this article with a sound base, the slightest whiff of a co-incidence has to be ruled out. Which brings us in the end back to my first introduction of these partsongs. Stranger things might have happened than Herbert unwittingly enabling Virtue to be reduced in a distant future, creating in the process this perfect combination with two independent poems, written two decades earlier and years apart. But such a chance to occur twice is all it needs to make pigs fly:
Most sources agree on the three partsongs as to be composed independently from each other, two decades before they were first combined. Yet the texts were placed on music in their original chronology, with a five years interval between both Shakespeare settings and the Herbert.
Five years is half (1/2) a decade; the reversal of two (2/1) decades. Because the closing part of this article will show the musical composition to copy this rather unique regrouping from three stand-alone songtexts to an unity – via a couple preceding a single, followed by a single preceding a couple – one should better not dice for money against Ralph Vaughan Williams. But we can at least rely on what he has written in capitals over three songtitles. In reversed order that is:
ELIZABETHAN SONG (in) THREE PARTS