untill death us do part

The postlude is measured like its two predecessors, but this time the number of lines offers no visible reason for it; with twelve O Mistress Mine is in itself complete. The only thing missing in the score is a proper source-indication. If this is a hint, it is an enigmatic one, for ‘William Shakespeare’ is simply insufficient to find out that this text is absolutely not in itself; it is in the play ‘Twelfth-Night, or; what you will’. And this mere fact is enough to alter the numbers:

By good fortune the song’s original theatre music has survived. Interestingly, its most striking feature is the way it spoils things. There is only one explanation why Shakespeare should have allowed his composer Thomas Morley (1557-1603), to ruin the poems’ superb structure by repeating four of its lines: it informed the audience the play features sixteen of them.

There is no hard evidence to link Morley’s music to the play’s first performance, but it is a plausible option.
The original source for both Shakespeare and Morley is a now lost song that was popular enough to deserve it a four part instrumental setting in Morley’s 1599 First Book of Consort Lessons. Being the sole source of the melody, this setting of a song of sixteen lost lines is adapted to fit Shakespeare’s text from ca. 1600, whenever it is to be sung on its original tune.
This approach invariably results in a song with the modest instrumental accompaniment that is within the range of the small band of musicians that could be expected on a commercial theatre company ’s payroll. While the singer has apart from the period’s usual independency of his line no great technical challenges to face. Which is consistent with a performance by an actor with good singing qualities like Robert Armin: the song’s original performer.
Against Morley as Twelfth-Night’s composer speaks the almost complete loss of the play’s other music; only its final song “The Winde and The Raine” has come to us in a contemporary setting. An anonymous one, and OMM was its only song to make it into Morley’s consort book. Especially the omission of “Come away, death” is disappointing. Perhaps this text was written as late as 1600, but if Morley had been Shakespeare’s composer, the song should be expected to have entered the book’s second edition (1616), because its poetry is of the same exceptional class as OMM. 

The new music on OMM is written without a single repeated line, a shortcoming well suited to explain yet another choise for a 3/4-measure. As mentioned; Vaughan Williams follows the text in every detail: on the word ‘trip’ the song even turns into a dance, and the forwarded begin of the melody in the top voice on ‘yourneys’ paints the loneliness before the lovers find each other. Details making his peculiar way to deal with the first line to seem even more inapt:

O mistress mine! where are you roaming?

This line is written on a very popular theme in love-poetry: the unattainable lady (here quite literally a lady keeping her distance). Therefore, as all singers know, it should be accentuated like this:

mistress mine, where are you roaming?

And if the only traced CD-recording is a representative test sample, they act accordingly. Not because the composer encourages them however. Unlike Morley’s setting, his score completely fails to support these natural accents: the mistress, the song’s principal subject, is carefully stowed away in an upbeat, and ‘where’ sounds on the second crotchet of a 3/4-bar. There are very few positions less suitable to stress these words musically. But judged by the precision in which the other 32 lines of the partsongs are handled, a moment of distraction is as likely as a white Christmas in hell. Hence; Vaughan Williams is telling us not even to try. And if this instruction should need any explanation; the second triplet produces an excellent one:

Trip no further, pretty sweeting,
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
—–Every wise man’s son doth know. 

The singer, who happens to be the play’s clown (throughout the dialogue consistently pronounced as ‘fool’), has got only twelve different lines to express his love. But he not only dedicates one to provide her with information everybody knows, he subsequently informs her in yet another line about that particular fact as well: just to bring the message home to her. Because the limited size of the poem does not allow to waste a single word, logic says this mistress must really be in need of the information. Which implicates she must still be unaware of the fact that the search for a lover is finished at the very moment the spark jumps over.

To the fool’s misfortune there is only one way to find out on her ignorance, turning his song into a great fooling of the audience. It now appears the true love is not troubled because she is hard to win, but because it is far too easy!  And the singer does not ask her where she is, but what she is dóing there. A reproach sounding like this:

o mistress MINE! where are you ROAming?

Turning a three part metrical foot into a four part one, these stresses happen to correspond exactly with this partsong’s musical accents. By which means RVW establishes all unity needed to make these songs a real cycle: In TWS (no. 2) the poor soul repents her lack of virtue apparently shortly after it is reduced (no. 1). Her four lines on the resulting marital problems are not omitted, but replaced by the words of her true love. (no. 3).

In short ; RVW doesn’t reduce O Mistress Mine by four lines, but he omits in his music the four line repetitions from the song’s original theatre music by Thomas Morley. The textexpression is very accurate, but in the opening line in disagreement with the obvious interpretation. This forces a three part meter into a four part one, and reverses the theme of the unattainable lady. In the process uniting the cycle in a coherent story :

Sweet Day
The Willow Song
O Mistress Mine

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