Part 3


A textcritical approach of the Elizabethan partsongs


A short introduction to the third and final part of this paper.

One of the most outstanding features of the human mind, is its strange incapability to accept – or even to recognize – the most obvious facts. That is to say: inconvenient facts. Such an ostrich like attitude is in general no help to improve knowledge. But this is not always a disadvantage. As demonstrated in that mental case known as politics; the noble art of selling chalk for cheese. A country would be ingovernable if its inhabitants refused to buy it. Problems must only be expected when politicians start to swallow the stuff themselves. Like that day when a disgraced Welsh courtier had convinced himself that the Prime Minister was selling the country:

To prevent that from happening, Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex, launched on Sunday eight February 1601 a coup d’état against the government of Elizabeth I of England. An action that led him straight to the scaffold. Which was at the time considered a fairly normal result. But the Essex rebellion is unique in both planning and execution. The motive was imaginary to begin with. A personal feud with the PM was apparently not enough to serve Essex as a justification. And the Earl made his move while half his men were still on their way to London. The advantage of surprise would have compensated for their absence, but what on earth made this former commander of the Queen’s Expeditionary Forces to neglect the necessity to attack according some plan?

The result was surreal. Instead of seizing the unprotected Westminster Palace, with the guarantee of instant victory, or the Tower, which would have secured him at least a firm grip on London, Essex launched a surprise attack on… lunch. While government was racing in reinforcements from all directions, the rebels were for three precious hours reinforcing the inner swordsman, untill all momentum of their action was spoiled.

The only reason for the Essex rebellion to keep scholars occupied, therefore is its upbeat; the notorious performance of Shakespeare’s 1595 history play; ‘The Tragedy of King Richard the Second’. To the pleasure of a more than receptive audience, this play on the succesfull coup of 1399 had proven itself the previous evening, as staged on short notice by Shakespeare’s own company, a revolutionary piece of art in the most literal sense of the word. It took a thorough inquiry before authorities decided that the players had been fooled into assistance. Yet, it is not impossible that Shakespeare, being the protegé of deputy rebel leader Henry Wriothesley, had been informed in advance, or even had purposedly assisted in the fooling itself. By lack of a source of inside information, research on this matter is restricted to inventing theories, and discussing their plausibility. All in the reassuring certainty that no hard evidence will ever come to light to prove Shakespeare guilty of high treason. Discussing the matter on an abstract level is a pleasant way to keep the mind occupied, but what can be gained by blackening a great artist’s reputation for real?

In regard to Shakespeare’s political preferences; less than nothing. To the audience nothing should matter but the quality of his works. But this quality is of course not always answering to the highest standards.

Especially the Victorian ones on decency are somewhat overdone to judge lines written to please people more familiar to the symptoms of syphilis than to soap. These standards however, have been in common use deep into the final quarter of the twentieth century. Forcing people for a long period of time to turn in public a blind eye to a significant aspect of some of literature’s greatest masterpieces. An aspect only returning to a certain degree of acceptability very recently, due to television’s increasing influence on society. Taking away all need for experts, facing it, to submerge their heads in sand.

And so, in the autumn of 2004, I finally found the courage to prepare my 1991 analysis of the short love song O Mistress Mine for publication (At last television has achieved something positive).

Written for the comedy Twelfth-Night, the song’s first public performance seems to have taken place during the twelfth night of Royal Court’s 1600 Christmas revels, being the sixth of January 1601. Which, as it happens, dates the completion of the play about the time Essex started to prepare for rebellion. But as a rule love songs stay clear from such trivialities as political upheaval, and therefore my analysis has so far produced only dates on human interaction of a more friendly nature.

As the overall title of this paper shows, my analysis is to a great extend tributary to the 1913 release of a cycle of three Elizabethan partsongs by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

Part One, titled; ‘An impossible combination’, demonstrated which way a set of three independent poems by different authors establishes a single story about reduced virtue. The second part; ‘Adults only’ revealed whose virtue it was Vaughan Williams seems to have had in mind, when he wrote his music.

This final part will deal with the consequences of fooling following three innocent texts into co-operation. And in the process we will unavoidably experience that there is a lot of wisdom in this old saying from German origin:

Every consequence leads to the devil.

Sweet Day  (ca. 1625)

Sweet day! so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky,
The dew shall weep thy fall tonight;
           For thou must die.

Sweet spring! full of sweet days and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie,
My music shows ye have your closes,
           And all must die.

Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
Like seasoned timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
           Then chiefly lives.

George Herbert (1593 – 1633)
Originally ‘Virtue’ but this setting omits four lines


The Willow Song  (1603/04)

The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
     Sing all a green willow;
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
     Sing, willow, willow, willow:
The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur’d her moans;
     Sing, willow, willow, willow;
Her salt tears fell from her, and soften’d the stones;
     Sing, willow, willow, willow:
Sing all a green willow must be my garland.

Words from Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’
Originally ‘The Song of Willow’, but this setting omits four lines



O mistress mine! where are you roaming?
O! stay and hear; your true love’s coming,
       That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
       Every wise man’s son doth know. 

What is love? ‘t is not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
       What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet-and-twenty,
       Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
This setting of ‘Carpe Diem’ omits Morley’s four line repetitions

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Part One ; or, An Impossible Combination

Part Two ; or, Adults Only

Part Three ; or, Revolutionary Art


Part III 

Revolutionary Art 


What started as lovely music on an haphazard choice of poetry, appeared to be a singular box where sweets compacted lie; and dallying with the innocence of love, Ralph Vaughan Williams combined this pieces to a message for the ears of King Edward VII only.

So it stands to reason to assume this music was composed to be performed in the presence of the adulterous king himself, in order to confront him with his guilty concience. But this possibility causes a very nasty problem, for things are hidden far to well to serve this purpose. Even worse; Vaughan Williams would have served poisoned sweets if he ever had informed Edward VII that only a virtuous soul is like seasoned timber:

The woodwork supporting a roof is usually as rigid as a poem’s structure. But at this occasion both the overall song and all three assembling parts are equally moving;  they spin round like roofs blown away in a tempest. And this way at least the shape of the message is straight about the consequences of royal misconduct:

the king must go.


When reversion turns into revolution – and blowing a reigning monarch, who is habitually unfaithfull to his queen, to kingdom come with the message

‘Only the virtuous soul shall live, and
the soul which is not virtuous shall die’

might easily be interpreted like that – artistic innocence turns into high treason. And so, even without any information whether the partsongs have ever been performed in the presence of King Edward, logic reasoning has led step by step into absurdity. To prepare music to such an objective would have been criminal in itself, but Ralph Vaughan Williams to plot against his sovereign is as ridiculous a thought as, for instance, George Herbert to write pornography.

The contents of Sweet Day made me therefore soon decide I was dealing with an Edwardian mystification. But when I revealed my findings to an Englishman, he responded instantaniously by quoting the first lines by heart. This sample from ‘Shakespeare’s Bawdy’ happens to be a much used textbook example of Herbert’s style. It was the Department of English from Amsterdam Free University that informed me subsequently that: “the poem is not titled ‘Sweet Day’ but ‘Vertue’ (virtue), as all religious poetry of GH it was first published in 1633.” It should be impossible, but this perfect Shakespeare imitation indeed is a genuine Herbert.

RVW not only renamed the poem, he also removed the second quatrain. Because this has no negative effect on the remainder, Virtue is reduced to Sweet Day by the removal of four superfluous lines. With this quatrain in its proper place, it is virtually impossible to deny that the Herbert’s rose belongs to the botanic genus Rosa. Which apparently rules out the liberty to consider the word to represent a pretty girl, as the English language would have allowed otherwise. And so all ambiguity collapses to nought; the rose is used here as a metaphor, showing that in the midst of life we are in death:

Sweet rose, whose hue angry and brave,
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye:
Thy root is ever in its grave,
           And thou must die. 

Which leaves us with sixteen lines of first rate religious poetry with a timber like structure and another nasty problem: it is impossible for these Elizabethan partsongs to exist when Herbert did not enable the reduction Virtue for the very purpose of enabling Ralph Vaughan Williams to confront Edward VII with his opinion on the king’s private affairs. Had I been aware of this conflicting piece of evidence from the beginning, I had very likely failed to recognize what the poem is telling sub rosa. And would have lacked a vital link in the chain of reasoning.

Lack of knowledge was for once to my advantage, I started my research with nothing but the half forgotten outlines of English history in mind, and an old schoolbook on the country’s literature on my desk. When I faced all double dealings in their almost perfect symmetry -12, 9 and 12 lines = 73, 65 and 74 words – with identical twin poems flanking the centre piece my conclusion was an obvious one. The more because I could not find the title ‘Sweet Day’ in the index of Herbert’s poetry. Obvious because the second line seems to be a poetic view on the constitutional monarchy. A feature that cannot be found in a genuinly seventeenth century document. The next paragraphs will show that it would almost certainly have stopped me in my tracks if I had known the complete poem from the beginning. 

As things stand now, it is as if the composer has personally asked Herbert to write exactly the words he needed to his music. Words from a class neither Ralph Vaughan Williams nor George Herbert have ever been associated with in their entire lifes, and including a reference to a modern constitutional monarchy, with the king acting as his government’s ‘bridle’ to lead society. In short: ‘Three Elizabethan Part Songs’ exists against all reason. And that is the optimistic assessment.

When taken into account that rulers by ancient tradition are entitled to sow their seed as wide as humanly possible – once they had in a certain primitive culture even the right to stand in for their male subjects in their first wedded night – it is absolutely not done to threaten a king with removal for having plenty of mistresses. Their (rumoured, but never officially confirmed) numbers rather served between colleagues for status symbols.

And as if things are not complicated enough allready, the threat is camouflaged far too well to achieve anything. King Edward lived out his life untroubled by guilt or revolution, while Ralph Vaughan Williams in his turn was left in peace by the public prosecutor. So stating this cycle to exist against all reason is by no means strong enough:

The three-part song is against all reason.


Of course Ralph Vaughan Williams was well aware of this paradoxal character of his composition, explaining why it was not published untill three years after the king’s sudden death in 1910. An interval that allows all necessary time for a highly important look into the overall design of the music. As to be expected from music on a text which unity goes under maximum cover; at first glance there is none:

Sweet Day                                              50 bars
– – – – – – – – – –
The Willow Song                                 33 bars
– – – – – – – – – –
O Mistress Mine                                   29 bars

Even the copyrights differ per song, but the opening pair has in E-minor a common key, leaving the third one (E flat-major) on itself. And because all this article’s links between songs are nothing but shortcuts to information initially extracted from Mistress, I consider her a key on her own:

Sweet Day                                            E-minor
The Willow Song                                E-minor
– – – – – – – – – –
O Mistress Mine                           E flat-major

This choise of keys is a well considered one: E-minor is, according to the composer Johann Mattheson (1681 – 1764), best suited to express sadness & sorrow (as in TWS), and reflectiveness (as in SD). Unfortunately I do not know what he makes of airily OMM’s key,  but it evidently creates a contrast. And both keys happen to refer to a certain initial.

Meanwhile we now see a repetition of moves from Part I. Therefore we can be pretty certain the music must be able to place the Herbert song opposite a Shakespearean couple, before uniting the cycle by the common beat. And of course Sweet Day is from a more recent date than the others.

Sweet Day                                                  1896
– – – – – – – – – –
The Willow Song                                       1891
O Mistress Mine                                         1891

And to complete the procedure:

Sweet Day                                            3/4 beat
The Willow Song                                3/4 beat
O Mistress Mine                                 3/4 beat

The musical composition follows the regrouping from three stand alone songtexts to an unity (see Part One) at pitch. Making it impossible for the cycle not to be designed as such in advance. Information that sheds new light on following words from the booklet accompanying the Hyperion cd-recording of these songs:

Scored for mixed voices, these partsongs show charm, but little sophistication in the choral writing. Nevertheless their simple, diatonic harmony is far removed from the rich chromaticism of the day and points to the mature composer.

(Andrew Burn ©1995) 

It is very well within any composer’s range, to write less sophisticated than his skills allow, but the nineteen year old pupil of Hubert Parry to abandon in his Shakespeare settings the prevailing fashion is something remarkable. Even more so, because he preludes on developments taking place long after he is in five years time to compose Sweet Day in the same manner.

Dismissing the years of composition as antedatings, however, has a major drawback: the collapse of the regrouping. This regrouping’s third position is based on the dates of composition, and accepting these dates as correct is not done when constructing what is still the sole available piece of evidence for antedating. This cycle’s paradoxal character is causing enough problems already, and allowing it to develop a similar defect in its dating is the last thing we can afford. So we are in need of something better to divide Sweet Day from the united Shakespeares. The year of composition never was quite as musical a division as the other ones anyway.

Some advanced research, performed on my behalf by Marius Lindeijer (Head of the Composition Department at ARTEZ High School of Music, Zwolle, Netherlands) has brought no other musical connections between songs to light. Leaving only one option open to deal with the problem, even when in terms of musicology it seems to be an absurd one: the recount of 112 bars of music.


This cycle is designed to transmit some very different messages at the same time. And this ambiguity is reflected in the number of compositions: the three contrasting songs are at the same time three similar parts of one song. It would only be consistent to expect the amount of bars in this song(s) to adapt itself accordingly. Which means that the results of the recount could be somewhat less certain than the inflexible laws of mathematics predict.

Of course a regular piece-to-piece counting of written bars will never produce a deviating result. So, in this case this is not the proper procedure. To get somewhere we must start from following paragraph from Part One:

Therefore it is no surprise to recognize in the partsongs a connection between the words and their musical expression that is as close as in the music of Bach. The most obvious example of this imitative style, is the music’s slow dying away on ‘die’, but it is also applied on the more obscure details. And even the totally invisible one: Virtue’s textreduction from 16 to 12 lines is reflected in the choise of measure. Choises actually: in the end Sweet Day is still telling a complete story, and so the 3/4 beat is in the two final bars replaced by a 4/4.

One of the more obscure details is the fact that Sweet Day covers exactly 49 out of its 50 bars. As a rule, every written bar is counted for a full one, even when (most of) it represents silence. But to be truely imitative, the music must add up to a netto score of 49 bars as well: 16 2/3 for verse 1; 17 1/3 for verse 2; and 15 for verse 3. Allowing the score to copy the text in reducing virtue a little more as a first glance reveals.

Applied on the verses of O Mistress Mine, this same method produces a score of 13 1/2 + 13 1/2 = 27 bars. Related to her size, a significant larger reduction than Sweet Day’s, but then, the reduction of her virtue is according to Part Two far more spectacular as well.

In contrast to her companions The Willow Song suffers no reduction of virtue. Lack of virtue is her main concern – Shakespeare did not insert some explicitly sexual remarks in the song for nothing – and what is not there, cannot be reduced. Another thing lacking is a division in verses, so the music flows on uninterrupted; covering all 33 bars from begin to end. What the song does have, however, is a division into story and refrain.

Considering that in these songs the story is everything, we could leave the refrain out. But neither Shakespeare nor RVW give any certainty whether the ninth line is the only complete line from the refrain, or a part of the story. Leaving the options open to delete either 13 or 18 bars. On the other hand we are by now aware of the great similarity between songs. The outer pair being identical twins is good reason to delete at this point some information from the story, and to insert a refrain instead. And by reducing the centre to its four or five refrain lines, we arrive at a total of  five different options: 33; 20; 18; 15; and 13 bars.

Instead of a fixed total of 112 bars, we are now facing (in proper order) 2 x 5 x 2 = 20 different ways to count them, producing 15 different results, ranging from 89 to 112. And this is only the beginning: the music’s imitation of the text includes OMM turning into a dance on the word ‘trip’. This dance involves in bars 8 and 10 the appearance of triplets; 3/8 motives in the timespace of a quarter, in this case consisting of a stressed crotchet (1/4) followed by an unstressed quaver (1/8): long-short-long-short-long-short. In short: this is a walz.

Which means that RVW has managed to spirit away eight complete bars: walzes are usually written in 3/4. All metrical accents in bars 8 and 10, and in the second verse’s bars 22 and 24, therefore are in fact downbeats of separate 3/4-measured bars. This results in four options: 27; 29; 35; and 37, and 2 x 5 x 4 = 40 totals.

The first multiplier will also raise, so we now are in acute danger of drowning in data which relevancy is still questionable. Therefore it is from this point onward very important to keep in mind that this first song, the one this procedure is supposed to set apart from the Shakespearean couple, has reduced Virtue by four lines; from sixteen to twelve.

As mentioned, Sweet Day’s verses cover respectively 16 2/3; 17 1/3 and 15 bars. The third verse, however, concludes with two bars in a deviating 4/4 beat. Such a change is not uncommon in music, but at this occasion it is rather peculiar: while handling with superior control the irregularities in the meters of two lines in this song, RVW allows himself not even the slightest irregularity in his chosen measure. And now, dealing with an immaculate regular meter, he introduces an irregularity of his own making.

The mathematical correct way to express the presence of different kinds of bars in the calculation, is the placing of the third verse between brackets. With verses one and two sharing bar 18, the regular way of counting now looks like this:

17 + 1 + 17 + (13 + 2) = 50

The netto sized alternative runs:

16 2/3 + 17 1/3 + (13 + 2) = 49

Brackets are very usefull to isolate a part of the calculation. Making it possible to introduce changes without disturbing the formula as a whole. And because mathematics is a necessary part of a composer’s professional education, RVW must have been aware of the fact he created such an opportunity. This being his very intention, would make a  rather plausible explanation for a seemingly lighthearted abandoning of a beat he previously considered worth a real effort in maintaining. And indeed; applying between brackets all four basic routines will prove very instructive:

Varying the formula with (13 + 2); (13 – 2); (13 x 2), and (13 : 2), produces 8 different results: 40 1/2; 41 1/2; 45; 46; 49; 50; 60; and 61. Leading up to 8 x 5 x 4 = 160 different ways to calculate an overall score, with 70 different results, ranging from 80 1/2 to 131. But no musicologist will ever accept fractions for the overall size of a piece of music. And RVW seems to have carefully avoided such a breach of rules to happen in both TWS and OMM. Musically isolating SD from a combination of TWS and OMM by a fractioned number of bars must therefore be considered impossible. Which makes the calculations resulting in fractions for SD’s total, superfluous.

This not only leads to a marvellous regularity in the formula that defines the number of alternative calculations: 6 x 5 x 4. It also reduces their number from 160 to 120 by removing the fourty superfluous ones.

This in exact parallel of the reduction of Virtue to Sweet Day.


There seems to be some method in this construction after all, even when its practical use is still unsure. And of course the use of numbers to create structures belongs to the basics of composition. The architecture revealed on the previous pages, however, is, as far as I know, the only example of its kind. To compare it with the more usual style, we must have a look at the works of the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750). Each of them being a textbook example of mathematical figuration. Not just because Bach’s structures testify of his great craftmanship, but mainly for his abundant use of the figure ‘14’.

Who replaces letters by their alphabetical position, will soon discover that according to the classic alphabet – to discern ‘I’ from ‘J’, and ‘U’ from ‘V’ results from more recent developments –  ‘14’ equals B + A + C + H:

1   A           4   D           7   G           10   K          13   N          16   Q          19   T             22   X

2   B           5   E           8   H           11             14   O          17   R           20   U=V       23   Y

3   C           6               I=J        12   M          15   P           18   S           21   W           24   Z

Fourteen chorales can be found in both Christmas Oratorio and St. Matthew Passion, and  the motet BWV 227 Jesu meine Freude (‘Jesus my joy’) is divided in fourteen sections.

This total seems to be 11, but the first chorus is distinctively divided in three separate sections by new starts of the music in bars 37 and 53, while the centerpiece also restarts after an opening section of 36 bars.

And exactly halfway the chorale-fughetta BWV 679 Dies sind die heil’gen zehn Gebot’ (‘These are the holy Ten Commandmends’) the principal fuge theme is after eight appearances out of ten, for a durance of 14 bars, replaced by a secundary theme of 14 notes. But the number’s use is not restricted to record authorship only. Bach also uses his signature to turn following line from the gospel of Saint Matthew, into his personal creed:

“Wahrlich; dieser ist Gottes Sohn gewesen.”
‘Truly; this has been the son of God.’

The son of God is part of the Holy Trinity. Reason for this short chorus to occupy just a modest three bars. And the choir’s lowest voice subscribes the words by singing them on 14 notes. As a mucisian, Bach was a good bass singer, and he can be trusted to have sung this line while conducting.

At least this is what musicology makes of it. In fact the music covers two complete 4/4 bars plus the first quarter of the third one, while the base line enters the musical weaver by a quarter delay. As a result the signature under this creed on the second entity of the One God in Persons Three covers exactly two out of three bars.

A very different and more complicated use of numbers is to be found in the cycle of brilliant compositions Bach offered at 7 July 1747 to the king of Prussia, a gifted flute player. Ten pieces in this ‘Musical Offering’ are canons, a number that of course refers to the Ten Commandmends (Canon; Gr. a rule that must be observed), as these canons observe some strict rules of composition while exploring the possibilities of a rather challenging theme, that was invented two months before by the Prussian ruler himself.

A very strange feature of this magnificent gift, is the fact it was still under construction; five out of thirteen pieces, including a trio-sonata starring the king’s own instrument, arrived at court at a much later date. Which leaves us with the paradox of Bach to write some great music for a great king, and to deliver it, accompanied by a highly flattering dedication, in the most offensive way he could think of.

The respect he was due to a sovereign, demanded his gift to be perfect into the least detail. And delivery in terms does not agree with perfection at all. So, why did Bach permit himself such a liberty? To answer this question we must have a close look at a certain detail of his gift. The supplement includes a set of two canons for respectively two and four instrumental voices, of which Bach supplies no information on their performance; he just gives a melody without any sign at which intervals in time and pitch the different voices are supposed to tune in. And heading these musical puzzles is the challenge:

“Quarendo invenietis”
‘Seek, and ye shall find.’

Words again quoted from the gospel of Saint Matthew, this time from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7; 7). A source indication enabling the preacher, as to be expected from a spiritual guide, to provide some good advise: follow your leader (the royal flute player) in the proper distance. Which in the four part canon is at pitch on seven bars in time for each next voice, and in the two part canon it is distance in space; the second voice tunes in after hearing a descending melodic seven: playing the tune in reversion and on the lower seventh. Because of the reversion this second voice is allowed to lead as well, playing an ascending seventh to mark the king’s entrance on the higher seventh. Before modern Bach research recognized the clue, these solutions had already been found by trial and error (in the case of the two part canon accompanied by another two playable options, derived from a sheer endless host of useless (dis)harmonies. Something to remember while plodding through the unavoidable pages with calculations lying ahead.

Seeking in the source indication, ye shall find Bach’s signature as well. But this time the reversion does not add the initials to it: 7 – 7 = 0. If this indicates these canons to count for zero, the cycle adds up to 14 pieces. Which is a little difficult to recognize, I admit, as we had thirteen pieces to begin with. But this official amount depends on a trio sonata to be counted for one, in spite of the fact that each of its four movements makes a separate piece. Apart from that 7 – 7 = the date on the dedication. Obviously this latter interpretation was to Bach worth a sacrifice. Nobody would have noticed the intended connection between challenge and dating, if the gift had been presented in the recommended state of perfection.

The seventh of July being the date, Bach’s best option when he realised the scope of his project, was to postpone delivery by twelve months. Yet, he decided otherwise. And the reason for this blunt haste is only discovered very recently, when some genius – I do apologize for not having been able to trace his name – had a good look at the host of all solutions, possible and impossible, for the puzzle canons:

They amount to a score of 1747 bars.



A gift for a king must be absolutely perfect. And if this is impossible to achieve, the least important detail has to be sacrificed first. In this case being the social conventions on dealing with royalty. Which will not come as a surprise for those familiar to an artist’s impatience with anyone standing between him and perfection. And in the process we find in Bach’s dealings with Frederic the Great a strange parallel of RVW’s dealings with Edward the Conqueror: a nice gift, but showing in the creative process a little more respect for the beneficiary would have done no harm.

A second parallel is in the method of concealing completely unexpected information in an equally unexpected way: both applying numbers of bars that in musical respect do not even exist.

This is not entirely true; to celebrate the discovery, the complete Bach score has been performed by the Amsterdam based Combattimento Consort. Reason why I was informed on this dating method in the first place. 

In the case of Bach this resulted in a seemingly paradoxal behaviour. Yet another parallel with the partsongs; behaving paradoxal in the regrouping sequence that betrays them to be antedated. With Bach the paradox vanishes the moment the non-existent bars are taken into account. And because of the problematic character of paradoxes this makes it worth a try to establish the same with the music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

A great help in making sense of the host of possible ways to calculate the overall number of bars, is the consistently applied imitative style. RVW even undertakes in SD the effort to copy in his alternative calculations of bars the completely invisible textreduction; invisibility included. Therefore we can trust him to copy the more evident features of the text as well. Of which the most striking ones are symmetry and unity. An unity hiding below a surface that is its very reversal.

And lo and behold; one out of 120 different calculations is perfectly symmetrical. And its result is the very reversion of unity, which in numbers is symbolized as ‘one’. And in three figure code 001:

Sweet Day (bruto size)       =    The Willow Song (story)    +    O Mistress Mine (netto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3             (short alternative)                      (long alternative)
– – – – – 35       +  (13 + 2) =    (33 – 18)                                +    (27 + 8)
– – – – – 35      +       15     +          15                                     +          35                       =      100

This is not the only calculation to place Sweet Day opposite the united couple of Willow and Mistress. And it is rather remarkable that one amongst them reverses most of the words between brackets:

Sweet Day (netto size)        =    The Willow Song (story)    +    O Mistress Mine (bruto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3              (long alternative)                       (short alternative)
– – – – – 34       +  (13 + 2) =    (33 – 13)                                +    (29 + 0)
– – – – – 34      +       15     +          20                                     +          29                       =       98

The other calculations are for the moment insignificant, as they contribute nothing to our efforts to repair the paradox in the evidence for antidating. Yet this does not implicate irrelevancy, we will return to them later. Meanwhile this couple suggest themselves as RVW’s tool to make the sequence work. The result this recount of bars was to achieve in the first place:

Sweet Day                                              50 bars
– – – – – – – – – –
The Willow Song                                  15 bars
O Mistress Mine                                   35 bars

But alas: logic objects strongly against the use of the amount of bars for both the first and third step of the sequence. And what is worse: in the process of repairing the paradox in the original sequence, we have learned that Sweet Day’s two bars in a deviating measure are too important to the calculations to be ignored. Which is exactly what the sequence is doing when their common 3/4 beat unites the songs. All reason therefore to dismiss the final step as erroneous. The discontinuity in measure, however, does appear exactly on the spot where the third step’s gap is expected to appear. So discontinuity readily presents itself as disconnection, and the sequence can be re-arranged accordingly:

Sweet Day                                              50 bars
– – – – – – – – – –
The Willow Song                                 33 bars
– – – – – – – – – –
O Mistress Mine                                   29 bars


Sweet Day                                            E-minor
The Willow Song                                E-minor
– – – – – – – – – –
O Mistress Mine                           E flat-major


Sweet Day                                 3/4 + 4/4 beat
– – – – – – – – – –
The Willow Song                                3/4 beat
O Mistress Mine                                 3/4 beat

As a result ‘unity’ has been removed from the regrouping, and needs to be replaced. To which purpose we have got a promising lead; the symmetry in the calculation that sets Sweet Day apart from the other songs. It is impossible to create symmetry without achieving unity. The former is just a special type of the latter; just one of its many shapes. All reason therefore look at the calculation more closely, and the first thing to catch our attention is the paradox:

              (35        +      15)  –     ——-       15———-+—-       35—–      =      100

This symmetry adds up to the reversal of unity (001). And as it is a real challenge to compose purposedly music in a way that enables this equation to emerge, we have arrived back at the very first result of this analysis in Part One: this cycle contradicts itself in an extremely difficult way on the matter of unity. It seems RVW has written the same message simultaneously in different languages. And this enables us to figure out what the differences in copyrights for his songs are telling;  if symmetry equals unity, and unity equals one, then a symmetrical calculation to add up to one hundred informs us that the reversion of unity equals unity:

– – – – – if                                       symmetry    =    unity
– – – – – and                                   symmetry    =    ytinu
– – – – – then                                           unity    =    ytinu

The paradox has dissolved; the reversion of unity now expresses symmetry in text. And even if this solution depends on just one calculation out of 120, this calculation has arrived at a high order of organisation by means of intelligent design. Which allows us to regard this as a purposed creation, rather than as the result of blind chance. Untill spontaneous evolution of increasingly high levels of order out of chaos will become the dominant theory for the origins of art, that is.

Untill that theory takes over, this calculation demonstrates that RVW has composed his ‘Three Elizabethan Part Songs’ as an unity, even if it doesn’t show very well. And without any musical links between songs, he must have done it by means of symmetry. Real existing symmetry of composition, not symmetry in one out of 119 non-existing ways to count bars.

As RVW’s music is expressing the text in every way one can think of, its symmetry is likely to express that of the text. A reproduction of that feature in numbers of lines, words, or syllables, however, hasn’t come forward during this investigation. Therefore all symmetry I was able to make out of the available data is in the text expression. But, though plausible, this symmetry is rather far-fetched, as it is produced by yet another reversion:

To recognize this one, we must keep in mind that SD is designed to be combined with TWS into a copy of any given triplet of OMM (Part One). By which means three stand alone texts are forged into unity. And within this unity OMM replaces the omitted final quatrain of TWS:

Let nobody blame him, his scorn I approve.
I call’d my love false love, but what said he then?
——-Sing, willow, willow, willow,
If I court moe women, you’ll couch with moe men.

This is an exact representation of OMM’s third layer (Part Two), but seen from her point of view. Providing us with a sound argument to identify this poor soul as ‘True Love’s roaming mistress. Furthermore, this testifies of a close connection between TWS and the third layer of OMM, and of course this is not the first time that TWS gets connected to porn. For the innuendo of its inserted dialogue I refer to Part Two. An innuendo that is tale telling about the song’s real character, of which even SD lifts a tip of the veil:

The ‘dew’ shall weep thy fall tonight

Judged by the innuendo, it is apparently possible to weep in company, which in itself is enough to make the Willow song as ambiguous as the others, for there is no word on the poor soul to weep in solitude. An omission that robs this song of all its innocence:

The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur’d her moans

As if it is not enough for the poor soul to sigh and moan by world’s oldest phallus symbol (dating back to Genesis 3 ; 7), she causes her company to tune in: “The fresh streams ran by her”. And her moans are the very last sounds genuinly murmuring streams are able to reproduce. In combination with ‘Poor Soul’s identification as ‘Mistress” this results in TWS to answer the opening question of OMM:

She is at the sycamore, notice her sighing and moaning

O mistress mine! where are you roaming?
O! stay and hear; your true love’s coming,

This phrasing clearly shows the congeniality of songs, but the current order makes no sense at all. The sooner OMM is therefore relocated to the cycle’s centre position, the better. To the textual symmetry this may be devastating, but the music will take over: in both SD and TWS it will express the decent surface, and in the centre the ambiguous depths. And that is not the only symmetry music will achieve:

text                     Sweet Day           –          O mistress mine           –       The willow song
expression              high                   –                      low                          –                    high
music                       slow                  –                      fast                          –                    slow
– – – – – – (andantino tranquilo)                 (allegretto)                                      (lento)
key                        E minor               –               E-flat major                  –                 E minor

Interestingly, in this scheme the new centerpiece shows all the hallmarks of its deeper layers. Even the cycle’s key is for its durance turned to tasteless fun. And who hears the Holst Singers perform the cycle (in this very order) on their 1995 recording, will also notice that the centre piece has the higher sound.

Which is not evident from the score, because RVW lowers the top note by the piece. In a gradual descent over a minor third from g in SD, via f in OMM, to e in TWS. —————————— But having achieved all this, the Holst Singers ignore in OMM’s first line the musical accents and sticks to the meter of the surface text. And in order to enhance musical unity, they sing OMM rather slow for its tempo indication. ————————— Slow – Fast – Slow, meanwhile, is the standard lay out for a three-part piece of music known as ‘French Overture’. Which is perhaps not exactly the way to define this cycle of songs, but perfect as an eufemism for any dealings along the lines of these poems.

A major drawback of this construction is the impossibility to establish both musical and textual symmetry at the same time. The only thing I can make of it, is this: if in this cycle the reversal of unity equals unity, than a reversal of symmetry may very well stand for symmetry. After undoing the symmetry of text, it is the center of the cycle that by textexpression exposes the textual unity. At the same time the resulting musical symmetry establishes the musical unity that completes the regrouping sequence. And we don’t even need to reverse songs: symmetry demands planning in advance. Which automatically results in a common time of composition to al parts of the cycle, and establishing unity is now simply a matter of dating:

Sweet Day                             Edwardian music
The Willow Song                 Edwardian music
O Mistress Mine                  Edwardian music

Nobody would consider this music Victorian anyway. Not with its expression of ‘coming’ in its lowest meaning. And in this regrouping sequence the paradox has vanished, so there is no reason to distrust the result. But to relocate this music with absolute certainty to the early twentieth century, we have to continue this highly important mathematical exercise. Granting OMM a key of her own, RVW backs my opinion that OMM is a key in her own right. A further exploration of this topic goes beyond the limits of this article, but a key the song certainly is; only a few lines ago we have seen it turned to ‘tasteless fun’. All reason therefore to try its choice of positions.

Nobody would consider this music Victorian anyway. Not with its expression of ‘coming’ in its lowest meaning. And in this regrouping sequence the paradox has vanished, so there is no reason to distrust the result. But to relocate this music with absolute certainty to the early twentieth century, we have to continue this highly important mathematical exercise. Granting OMM a key of her own, RVW backs my opinion that OMM is a key in her own right. A further exploration of this topic goes beyond the limits of this article, but a key the song certainly is. All reason therefore to try its various positions.

Two of OMM’s totals have untill now be combined with the story of  TWS; the key that in turn deciphers OMM’s true love story, and both place SD opposite the other songs:

Sweet Day (bruto)               =    The Willow Song (story)    +    O Mistress Mine (netto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3             (short alternative)                      (long alternative)
– – – – – 35       +  (13 + 2) =    (33 – 18)                                +    (27 + 8)
– – – – – 35      +       15     +          15                                     +          35                       =      100

Sweet Day (netto)                =    The Willow Song (story)    +    O Mistress Mine (bruto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3              (long alternative)                       (short alternative)
– – – – – 34       +  (13 + 2) =    (33 – 13)                                +    (29 + 0)
– – – – – 34      +       15     +          20                                     +          29                       =       98

Both the other totals of OMM go very well together with TWS’s refrain, especially when the remaining standard procedures of SD’s third verse are to be explored:

Sweet Day (netto)                +    The Willow Song (refrain) +    O Mistress Mine (netto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3              (short alternative)                      (short alternative)
– – – – – 34       +  (13 x 2) +    (33 – 20)                                +    (27 + 0)
– – – – – 34      +       26     +          13                                     +          27                       =      100

Sweet Day (bruto)                +    The Willow Song (refrain) +    O Mistress Mine (bruto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3              (long alternative)                       (long alternative)
– – – – – 35       +  (13 – 2) +    (33 – 15)                                 +    (29 + 8)
– – – – – 35      +       11     +          18                                      +          37                       =      101

In this choice of four calculations no alternative is used repeatedly. And half of them show a satisfying (reversal of) unity. Furthermore the third calculation’s lack of symmetry is well compensated by the result of the fourth one. Making this couple complementary in confirming unity. As it happens, these very same calculations will arrive at the very same results if SD’s remaining pair of alternatives is applied, instead of the ones shown above:

Sweet Day (netto)                +    The Willow Song (refrain) +    O Mistress Mine (bruto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3              (long alternative)                       (long alternative)
– – – – – 34       +  (13 – 2) +    (33 – 15)                                +    (29 + 8) 
– – – – – 34      +       11     +          18                                     +          37                       =      100

Sweet Day (bruto)                +    The Willow Song (refrain) +    O Mistress Mine (netto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3              (short alternative)                      (short alternative)
– – – – – 35       +  (13 x 2) +    (33 – 20)                                 +    (27 + 0) 
– – – – – 35      +       26     +          13                                      +         27                       =      101


The three musical scores imitate their texts in regrouping from independent pieces to both combinations of two against one. Calculations based on the numbers of bars in the partsongs imitate the reduction of these texts from sixteen to twelve lines. These calculations also reproduce the symmetry and unity of the songtexts. In the words of the songtexts these features reveal the necessity to make TWS and OMM to swap positions. This replaces the symmetry in text by symmetry in music. In symmetry of textexpression actually. The musical composition follows the regrouping from three stand alone songtexts to an unity at pitch. Which proves the antedating of a twentieth century composition to the 1890’s.

Sweet Day                                              50 bars
– – – – – – – – – –
The Willow Song                                 33 bars
– – – – – – – – – –
O Mistress Mine                                   29 bars


Sweet Day                                            E-minor
The Willow Song                                E-minor
– – – – – – – – – –
O Mistress Mine                           E flat-major


Sweet Day                                 3/4 + 4/4 beat
– – – – – – – – – –
The Willow Song                                3/4 beat
O Mistress Mine                                 3/4 beat


Sweet Day                             Edwardian music
The Willow Song                 Edwardian music
O Mistress Mine                  Edwardian music


The most evident characteristic of these six results is their average being one-hundred. A remarkable round figure to derive by mere chance from a group of 120 that averages 103.6333etc. But the original group of 160 arrives at a modest 100.925. Which is a challenge to some mathematician (with too much spare time) to explain. Why does adding superfluous data increase the chance for the higher five out of six closely related calculations (3 x 100 & 2 x 101), selected from this group on unrelated grounds, to arrive with their average of 100.4 at point blank distance from the overall average?

This question answered, this same mathematician is very welcome to examine what is my real concern: none of these six calculation uses the complete Willow Song. The amount of relevant calculations is therefore further reduced to 6 x 4 x 4 = 96, with an average score of 100.333etc. Which is only .067 below the average of these five out of six calculations. But this difference, little as it is, is not quite the last word in precision:

The selected calculations are arranged in three pairs, of which two produce identical results, in spite of a small difference in terms. Mathematic logic learns the difference is therefore irrelevant, and this group of five out of six different calculations is at the same time a group of only three different calculations; producing two times 100 and one time 101. Results going far beyond anything I am prepared to believe Dame Fortune can accomplish on her own: unto ∞ figures behind the point this trio’s average equals that of the group of 96 it is in the end derived from. Dismissing chance as cause for such amazing precision, this procedure must be an essential part of the design of the partsongs. And the one out of six calculations to stay clear from any average, happens to produce 98;

the exact number of words in both Virtue and the full Song of Willow 

A short glance at the data now reveals that the total of bars for TWS not incorporated in previous six calculations, equals the number of words not incorporated in these bars; RVW set his music to 65 words. If this set of calculations is purposedly designed by or for RVW – and this chapter is about to present even more evidence to support this thesis – this sample of text expression should earn its creator a statue at the centre of Trafalgar Square (to express the reason for this honour, it should of course be placed inside that pillar already occupying the spot).

In fact RVW deleted some more than 33 words, but with the inserted prose this is such a natural thing to do, that nobody notices. And that’s a pity; by the time TWS has ended, this same inserted prose has turned 65 words into 74; bringing the song up to size with OMM (even raising the pronounced syllables to her level: for maximal precision depending on the pronounciation of ‘every’ in line six as ev’ry).

74 is also the score for Reduced Virtue as Herbert wrote it down: in line three RVW replaced the original ‘to night’ by ‘tonight’. With Herbert’s original written spelling of 95 syllables to equal OMM’s pronounced ones (with every replacing ev’ry), and Sweet Day’s pronounced syllables to surpass reduced TWS’s by a mere three, it only stands to reason to discover that Vertue’s original 99 words equal the unreduced Song of Willow as George Herbert knew it: the 1623 folio edition of Shakespeare’s works spells the word ‘nobody’ in line eleven as ‘no body’.

Apparently RVW copied a more recent edition of Othello. But thanks to George Herbert his composition is still linked to the 1623 folio. The prose inserted in the full Song of Willow consists of 21 words. This makes the original Song of Willow to cover 120 words in its sixteen lines. Bringing us back at the reduction that caused RVW’s 120 / 160 different calculations.

In case this introduction is not enough to assure RVW posthumously the next Nobel prize for mathematics, we will now proceed towards the benefit of this exercise. These calculations do of course not copy a text-with-a-purpose for nothing.

To recognize this benefit we must reconsider the way the six calculations are paired. In the first couple one calculation combines symmetry and unity in isolating SD from the others, the other just isolates SD, so their common feature is isolation. In both the other couples one calculation adds up to unity, and the other to symmetry. Allowing to regard one of these couples as superfluous. But which one to delete? no matter which couple is combined with the first one, in four calculations no alternative is used twice. And on top of this problem of choice comes the problem with balance. Though one calculation in the first couple combines symmetry and unity, the couple itself serves the single purpose of isolating SD. The other couples just combine symmetry and unity. While lacking a clear purpose.

Lacking any method to find out which couple is the superfluous one, it stands to reason to regard both their combinations with the first couple, as alternatives. To make sense of such an approach these alternatives should differ in some respect. This requires the redistribution of the final four calculations. A procedure also bringing their couples in line with the first one. All couples will now serve a single purpose; in following scheme the second couple produces unity, while the third one brings symmetry. And all problems are delt with effortlessly:

Sweet Day (bruto)               =    The Willow Song (story)    +    O Mistress Mine (netto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3             (short alternative)                      (long alternative)
– – – – – 35       +  (13 + 2) =    (33 – 18)                                +    (27 + 8)
– – – – – 35      +       15     +          15                                     +          35                       =      100

Sweet Day (netto size)        =    The Willow Song (story)    +    O Mistress Mine (bruto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3              (long alternative)                       (short alternative)
– – – – – 34       +  (13 + 2) =    (33 – 13)                                +    (29 + 0)
– – – – – 34      +       15     +          20                                     +          29                       =       98

Sweet Day (netto)                +    The Willow Song (refrain) +    O Mistress Mine (netto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3              (short alternative)                      (short alternative)
– – – – – 34       +  (13 x 2) +    (33 – 20)                                +     (27 + 0) 
– – – – – 34      +       26     +          13                                     +          27                       =      100

Sweet Day (netto)                +    The Willow Song (refrain) +    O Mistress Mine (bruto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3              (long alternative)                      (long alternative)
– – – – – 34       +  (13 – 2) +    (33 – 15)                                +    (29 + 8) 
– – – – – 34      +       11     +          18                                     +          37                       =      100

Overall result                                                                                                                          398

The second option produces an only slightly different total:

Sweet Day (bruto size)       =    The Willow Song (story)    +    O Mistress Mine (netto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3             (short alternative)                      (long alternative)
– – – – – 35       +  (13 + 2) =    (33 – 18)                                +    (27 + 8)
– – – – – 35      +       15     +          15                                     +          35                       =      100

Sweet Day (netto size)        =    The Willow Song (story)    +    O Mistress Mine (bruto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3              (long alternative)                       (short alternative)
– – – – – 34       +  (13 + 2) =    (33 – 13)                                +    (29 + 0)
– – – – – 34      +       15     +          20                                     +          29                       =       98

Sweet Day (bruto)                +    The Willow Song (refrain) +    O Mistress Mine (bruto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3              (long alternative)                       (long alternative)
– – – – – 35       +  (13 – 2) +    (33 – 15)                                 +    (29 + 8)
– – – – – 35      +       11     +          18                                      +         37                       =      101

Sweet Day (bruto)                +    The Willow Song (refrain) +    O Mistress Mine (netto)
verses  (1 + 2)   +        3              (short alternative)                      (short alternative)
– – – – – 35       +  (13 x 2) +    (33 – 20)                                +     (27 + 0) 
– – – – – 35      +       26     +          13                                     +          27                       =      101

Overall result                                                                                                                          400

At this point the reduction of five different calculations to three, reveals why it is an essential part of the partsong’s design. The superfluous 100-101 pair is now divided over two alternative sets of four calculations. Therefore each set of four is at the same time a set of three. And it doesn’t matter which calculation from each set’s second couple will be deleted. The choise has no influence on the overall results, being respectively reduced to 298 and 299.


Mathematical logic has in the end derived from the Edwardian music for three Elizabethan Part Songs, both alternative intervals in time between the reigns of Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603), and Edward VII (1841 – 1910; succession 1901, coronation = formal installment 1902).


The ambiguity of King Edward’s status in the year following Queen Victoria’s death, is no clever wordplay to deal with the 299 alternative. It is something suggested to me by William Shakespeare in person:

In the Dramatis Personae of his ‘Tragedy of King Richard the Third’ is England’s last but one Plantagenet king listed as: Edward, Prince of Wales,afterwards King Edward the Fifth. ‘Afterwards’ being as early as the second scene of act two, but having waited exactly two acts for his coronation to take place, Edward Plantagenet dies at the age of twelve. In consequence the DP remains the play’s sole reference to the boy as a king. In the dialogue he remains a prince throughout, and even in his appearance as a ghost two years after his death. And thus Shakespeare establishes a twillight zone in the status of the successor between coronation as the formal, and the traditional proclamation as the effective moment of succession: “The king is dead: long live the king!”

Therefore both overall results make a valid interval between reigns. Intervals that were, by the way, no common knowledge in 1896, the cycle’s official year of completion, which comfirms the redating to the early twentieth century. Of course this does not guarantee the partsongs to date from King Edward’s reign, RVW might have been cautious and law obiding enough to postpone his subversive action unto, let us say, 1911, when it was no criminal act any longer. Making it very important to pinpoint the year a little more precise than somewhere between 1900 and 1914.

In the case of the Musical Offering this task is assigned to non-existent bars, but this does not prevent the real ones to add up to the receiver’s name (see the next chapter). Implicating that alternative countings are no excuse to neglect the original 112 bars of the partsongs. Is it possible for them to reveal the information we need?

I started my attempts to derive something from these bars, by determining whether 112 has a multiple equalling a year within RVW’s span of life; and it indeed has: 112 x 17 = 1904. This is the third/ fourth year of Edward’s reign, and the partsongs were first published in the corresponding year in the reign of his successor. If it was no matter of high treason, this would be a highly satisfying result. Now it raises the nasty question why seventeen should be the multiplier RVW had in mind.

Untill now the only way I have found to derive ‘17’ from the partsongs, is to calculate the difference between SD and TWS: 50 – 33 bars. Which seems reasonable enough, provided the other differences make sense as well: 50 – 29 = 21, and 33 – 29 = 4. And look and behold, there is not even the need of reversing something to hit a jackpot:

(SD – TWS)                  –                  (SD – OMM)    –                  (TWS – OMM)
17                    (av. : 19)                     21                                            04
———————————————————————–—–  ——————————-
(Signature)                                    (Date)

Compare the first couple of numbers with the classic alphabet to decypher the signature. It looks convincing; the combination of date and signature is a standard feature of official statements. Yet, apart from the signature being incomplete, there are three drawbacks. The dating is inconsistent to begin with; 19 and 04 are produced by different procedures. And although the average of the signature seems to superfluous, because untill very recently 1904 has had ’04 as the proper abbreviation, it is crucial in its copying of the centre stages of the regrouping sequence:

Sweet Day            –           The willow song           –            O mistress mine

(theme)                                    (subject)

An even bigger problem is the multiple use of data: I wonder how a mathematician would estimate the chances to combine three numbers to both a signature and the genuine date of this signature. Especially with this same combination being assigned to serve so much other purposes as well.

The principal drawback, however, is committing high treason for Vaughan Williams to be absolutely out of character. But his own dating is no better. RVW to reproach the Prince of Wales somewhere in the 1890s is equally impossible, and only a reliable dating in the period 1910 – 1913 would convincingly explain away his assault on Edward VII. The insertion of this incriminating ‘1904’ therefore contributes heavily to the paradoxal character of the partsongs. If done purposedly, the composer should have had a very good reason for it; the music being written during the reign of Edward VII, for instance.

Balancing these arguments, I am inclined to dismiss any other option as even more unlikely, whatever the consequences for RVW’s reputation may be. And with the field of investigation narrowed to the period 1901-1910, the composer’s own choice is as good as any other.

This choice for 1904 fixes the shift in time for O Mistress Mine and TheWillow Song on thirteen years, and for Sweet Day on eight. Numbers that bring us back to that other music intended to please a king. Vaughan Williams was a Bach interpreter of some reputation, so it stands to reason to assume he was familiar with the Musical Offering. Which might explain why his own musical surprise reproduces for intervals in time its key numbers: the original Musical Offering of 7-7-1747 consists of eight pieces, the complete cycle of thirteen. This unexpected reference to Bach now suggests RVW’s offer to Edward VII to be incomplete without a dedication letter, and because Royal archives are supposed to preserve such correspondence for eternity, it should still be there (alas, there is no trace of it). Like the copy – or even an answering letter – should be in the composer’s personal archive. Which I haven’t been able to locate.

Without tracing a dedication letter I have probably pushed too far, but this combination of dates is convincing enough to decide RVW has connected ‘1904’ by design to ‘1891’ and ‘1896’.

The website of the RVW Society dates the partsongs 1899 (previously 1898). I therefore can’t rely on the dates 1891 & 1896 in my cd-booklet to originate from  RVW himself. And without his co-operation my research is partly based on quicksand.

 Making this new date as the year of composition as artificial, and unreliable,  as the ones it should replace. Which is the best imaginable result this attempt to redate the partsongs could have achieved. Instead of a take-it-or-leave-it result, we ave arrived at a year of composition that must be accepted in order to prove it wrong. Meaning that RVW has shown us straight back to square one, with a perfect reversal of the original paradox as presented in the second paragraph below the Burn quotation in the year of living dangerously. 


Evidently RVW is satisfied with leaving us in the dark on the correct dating of his composition. Still, he copies Bach closely enough to justify the effort of checking his barcode for names as well. And as the 1904-dating depends on the use of the Alphabet as Bach knew it, this is the version to try first.

1   A           4   D           7   G           10   K          13   N          16   Q          19   T             22   X

2   B           5   E           8   H           11             14   O          17   R           20   U=V       23   Y

3   C           6               I=J        12   M          15   P           18   S           21   W           24   Z

Bach himself managed to include, together with his own number, that of the king. The eight pieces completed at 7-7-1747 cover 319 bars, being the average of 312 (319-7): ‘Friedrich Rex von Hohenzollern’, and 326 (319+7): ‘Koenig Friedrich von Hohenzollern. The figures to look for first therefore are:

214      Ralph Vaughan Williams                   285      Albert Edward of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
162      Vaughan Williams                                230     Edward of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
52        Ralph                                                         91      King Edward
58       RVW or maybe                                       114      Prince Edward
28      2 x 14 for copying Bach                            52      Edward

Evidently the partsongs provide no corresponding number of bars, while the 112 bars leave no space to imitate Bach’s trick. And switching to the modern alphabet seems to make no difference. A search for authors is the next step; but nothing in Sweet Day refers to George (55) Herbert (73), and the numbers of William (74) Shakespeare (103) do not embellish O Mistress Mine or Willow Song. The latter is signed 100 bass notes in 33 bars instead:

Francis Bacon


Once again logic reasoning has ended up in deep trouble. By repeating lines 1, 2, 7 & 8, Thomas Morley’s music for OMM resulted in a song of exactly one-hundred words. RVW reduced his partsongs to thirty-three lines. And Francis Bacon was a close friend of George Herbert. Taken into account that about 1600 he also must have been in touch with that “illiterate player”, as the Baconians prefer to call the man from Stratford, this information is better not published before 2013 at least; as if it is not enough to annoy the RVW-society, I now risk another death warrant from the Stratfordians for discrediting their hero as well.

The next fatwa will doubtlessly come from the Baconians I presume. But art demands sacrifices; there is a price to be paid for confronting people with inconvenient facts. Unnecessary facts for all that. It is even less difficult to unravel the mystery of the partsongs, if all damaging information is carefully circumnavigated.

Combining their words is all it needs. But the almost invisible clues Vaughan Williams has planted so carefully in his music, have to be exposed to his admirers – and this music was all it needed to make me one – in good order. If only to learn what it means to live for one’s art, whatever the consequences may be.

The ultimate clue must have been a performance of the partsongs in the presence of the King himself. To arrange such an event was the greatest of all challenges the artist would have faced when indeed deciding to write his music in an imitative style. In earnest or jokingly, it must be a thrilling experience to tell a reigning monarch straight into his face that he lacks virtue, and will be kicked out from office for it in near future.

The available information on his personality testifies that Ralph Vaughan Williams never could have been contemplating such action in earnest. But pushing his imitation to the limit, he must at least have tried everything to get the king within hearing distance of his singers – that dedication letter simply must be somewhere – being the only way to go through the experience of risking his neck. In his case the public disgrace would of course have been the worst part of the prosecution, but what about the original authors of these subversive songs?

George Herbert made a political career under James I. Being Scottish, this king could never depend on the loyalty of all his courtiers. Their dislike of the foreign ruler resulted in the mischievious leaking of ‘first hand information’ from Royal Court to the man in the street. Causing the king to enter history as a practising homosexual. A piece of knowledge recent research has given some reason to distrust.

Still more recent research, however, has thoroughly outed James I; his affair with the Duke of Buckingham has recently been exposed in full detail by the BBC. Without any doubt about the interpretation of the evidence. 

Under these circumstances Herbert would certainly have put his head at stake by releasing his contribution to the cycle. In the end Virtue was never published before 1633. Just as RVW’s Sweet Day was kept off the market untill all danger of backfiring was over.

So there is no reason at all to regard the cycle as an assault on James I. Edward VII’s reputation was to Herbert no concern either, let us therefore focus our attention on the sixth of January 1601, when it was perhaps composer Thomas Morley himself who set RVW an example by conducting in the presence of his sovereign the one and only


Twelfth-Night was most likely first performed at Royal Court as the conclusion of its 1600 Christmas-revels. The central character in the play is the Countess Olivia. Though she is not the heroïn, her relations with the other characters are motivation and pilot of every development. Her position as the spider in the web closely resembling that of Elizabeth I at Court.

As a matter of fact, her high birth, wisdom, and her habit to send suitors packing, has caused scholars to accept Olivia generally as a portrait of the Virgin Queen. Supposedly intended to grant her for the durance of the play, through Olivia’s youth and beauty, the illusion of being still as young and attractive as a couple of decades ago. To enhance the identification of the Queen with Olivia, Olivia’s suitor Duke Orsino was sitting next to her all the time. The year’s guest of honour being Italian diplomat Don Valentino Orsino, Duce di Bracciano.

For this very reason Shakespeare Studies does not take an identification of Twelfth-Night for granted as the play that was performed at Court that day. The presence of Duke Valentino Orsini is usually regarded as evidence that Shakespeare started his work on the play featuring his namesake somewhere during 1601. But the name Orsino may instead have replaced the play’s Duke original name during rehearsals..

Olivia being portrayed as a much junior lady, is strong evidence she is indeed modelled after the Queen. In all her life, Elizabeth I never allowed any portrait to bear testimony of her to grow old. And no mirror either. She preferred to fend off reality with increasingly thick layers of priming, which in time turned her gradually into a caricature of her original appearance. But any hint in that direction could trigger her wrath, so she got nothing but flattery instead. Evidently Twelfth-Night made in her sixty-eight year no exception, that is to say; no exception but O Mistress Mine, whose closing line tells her straight into her face:

Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
Youth cannot be preserved.

A punchline that really hurts. Provided it catches the attention of the vain lady. Occupied as Elizabeth was by keeping track with the story, this unexpected mockery of her person must have escaped her attention. Otherwise the trial might have been the most famous part of the author’s biography. And nobody would ever have dared to use this song once more unobtrusively against a head of state.

Now attention must focus on the fact that most of RVW’s imitative surprise assault is composed on words written after the queen’s death, making ‘Elizabethan’ in ‘Three Elizabethan Part Songs’ definitively referring to the person, rather than to her era. And suddenly the punchline is nothing but the final sneer from a song that is in every respect ‘Edwardian’.

Of all impossibilities featuring in this article, this one hits the ceiling. Every historian will drop from his chair when this message comes home. Ralph Vaughan Williams, however, was no historian, and unconcernedly used three ‘Private-Part-Songs’ to connect the legendary ‘Virgin Queen’ to her not over-virtuous successor by their parts of death. For obvious reasons the composer was unable to copy the exact timing of the playwright, who wrote Mistress three years before the Queen ended her mortal days, but he could reverse this timing on Edward VII, and consequently published in 1913.


Even autocrats suffer discrimination. In a time when kings could permit themselves as many mistresses as they wanted without endangering their power base, a reigning queen had to be far more carefull. It was concern for her popularity that made Elizabeth I to advertize her virginity to gain some kind of cult status. But why should she rule by celibate for real in a century when not even the Pope was inclined to?

Marriage, however, was no option. A legal husband would take over power to begin with. It is now evident why the sex in Mistress is extramatrimonial. If this song had been linked convincingly to the Queen, the impact on her political position would have been devastating. In consequence no Stratfordian should have objected the Baconian claim on this particular song ever after. And would even be willing to surrender the entire play to the rival.

It would be a shame though, Twelfth-Night is an unique masterpiece. Nevertheless, the Baconians would return it to sender forthwith, despite the fact it is out of the question to remove the play from the canon for lack of quality. This because this is no Comedy but a Problem Play. If Queen Elizabeth had noticed the punch line of Mistress, the trial would not only have resulted in the most famous chapter of the author’s biography, it could easily have been the final chapter as well: close reading of Twelfth-Night by a suspicious prosecutor would have resulted in a warrant for high treason.

Linking Francis Bacon to the partsongs has its drawbacks; I have just added another society to the ones already after my blood. My only protection being the fact that because of a fundamental misinterpretation of Richard II, no expert will ever accept the result of following analysis:

With the presence of Elizabeth I in Twelfth-Night as Countess Olivia firmly established, the fuse is lit in Act One; scene five; exactly thirty-three days before certain political tensions exploded in the Essex rebellion;

Cesario  :               (…) Are you the lady of the house?
Olivia     :               If I do not usurp myself, I am.

From this point onward, all the play’s dialogue is designed to discredit Olivia as a lady. The ambiguity is far more sophisticated than in Mistress, but the layers underneath still make mincemeat of her reputation. Take for instance her servants to get out of favour (II; v). Olivia’s alter ego Elizabeth Tudor had the habit to favour her courtiers with well-paid offices, as reward for their merits to the realm or to herself. Offices that could be taken from them at every whim. And only a fool would risk to antagonize her by neglect of duties. For which offence the play’s clown faces punishment in scene 1 ; 5:

Olivia        :           Take the fool away.
Clown       :           Do you not hear, fellows? Take away the lady.

Ignoring the insult, she decides to deny the offender for a while the pleasure of her company. Not as bad a repercussion as could be expected in real life. To emphasize this, Feste gets a little earlier in the same scene the warning that Olivia is prepared to hang him. Which in turn seems a little overdone, the Queen herself was in any case exceptionally angry when she in 1589, for once, promised instant death in connection with a similar offence. Good reason for Feste to make in his reply a joke of the prospect. Or does he really?

Clown       :            Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage.

When Olivia finally meets a suitor to her taste, the first thing that catches the eye is the proposal not exactly to follow the usual pattern (IV; ii):

Olivia        :           Nay; come, I prithee; would thou’dst be ruled by me!
Sebastian  :           Madam, I will.

The reversion of rôles, may be fully consistent with her previous behaviour, but not quite the same with the traditional virtues of a lady. Apart from that, her choice of words turns a man of great birth simply into a servant. As far as I am concerned, a proposal should show a little more respect (unless he is a servant, payed to take care of all her needs, of course). Anyway, it is obvious who will be the boss in this partnership, and therefore its patriarchal environment has good reason to call this a bad marriage.

The next problem in connection with this fragment, is her to confuse twins, for which reason she does not propose her ‘true’ love. Evidently this does not bother him, but is that enough to decide he indeed truly loves her?

She proposes him at their first meeting, which happens to be outdoors. Therefore her face is veiled (see I; i, lines 26-27), and eye-contact is impossible. This makes it very doubtful that Sebastian’s immediate response is caused by love at first sight. Love at first hearing is more likely. But her choice of words does not really explain their impact; the charm must be in her voice then. Making it a matter of intonation, which in a printed dialogue is recorded as punctuation. Another look at Olivia’s line now reveals the venom in its tail; her words are not leading up to a question mark, as to be expected, but to a note of exclamation! What looks like a sweet proposal, therefore sounds uncanningly like a command.

This is all we need to know: Olivia, the alter ego of Elizabeth I, is absolutely  lady. And if she is no lady, she must be an usurper; she has told Cesario as much the moment they first met.

Therefore she is according to Richard II not entitled to rule.


Comments on Richard II without exception identify the play’s usurper as Henry Bolingbroke, who deposed King Richard in 1399. This is historically correct: the Earl of March, Richard’s little nephew Edmund Mortimer, was at the time the first in line of succession. The boy being too young to answer the realm’s urgent need for a strong ruler, served Bolingbroke as the justification to seize the crown for himself. But I wouldn’t recommend to apply this knowledge when analysing the play; it doesn’t even mention young Edmund to begin with.

The next point of interest is that King Richard violates the law by confiscating all property his full cousin Bolingbroke was entitled to inherit from his father John of Gaunt. This is also recorded history, but Shakespeare Studies tend to forget that ‘usurpation’ is a legal term for illegally taking possession in general. A fact that enables the author to reverse the obvious as if he were a barrister: when the king is forced into restitution of what does not legaly belongs to him, the play has him to add voluntarily his crown to the returned valuables. Of course he has no option but to abdicate; abuse of power to squeeze money out of people fully justifies impeachment from any governmental office. Him to step down in favour of Bolingbroke, however, is an artistic liberty that presents Henry IV as the legitimate successor.

When Shakespeare wrote this play in 1595 this was a sound opinion, because the reigning monarch for her legitimacy in the end depended on Bolingbroke’s. In 1601, however, this special account of the violent 1399 transfer of power served as the upbeat for armed rebellion; in a performance by the very same theatre company that only thirty-two days before had accused Queen Elizabeth I of usurpation.

Leaving little doubt that the author of Twelfth-Night has been deeply involved in the preparations to make Essex the next Bolingbroke.

Klaas Alberts
© 21 March 1996

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