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    Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more


    Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more


    This is related to the sunk/sank discussion in “it finally sunk in”.

    related discussion: It finally sunk in! - Endlich ist der Grosche...

    I have often wondered about “sung” in this poem by Orlando Gibbons:


    The silver swan


    The silver swan, who living had no note,

    When death approached, unlocked her silent throat;

    Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,

    Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more:

    “Farewell, all joys; Oh death, come close mine eyes;

    More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.”


    I thought that sung was wrong and should be sang instead, but a search for this poem on the internet shows about equal numbers of occurrences of sung – sung and sang – sang which for me is an indication of sung being acceptable. (There are even some mixed sung – sang and sang – sung versions.)


    Does anyone know what Gibbons wrote originally?

    AuthorViking_ (925763)  28 Apr 20, 12:57
    Without citing any sources, my hunch is that it was 'sung,' even though that seems wrong to us today. Apparently there has been a good deal of variation in usage over the centuries.

    A beautiful song, in any case. (-:
    #1Author hm -- us (236141) 28 Apr 20, 13:40

    i would also guess he (or Christopher Hatton) originally wrote "sung." OED lists it as a variant past form:

    sing, v.


    Forms: Past tense sang, sung. past participle sung.



    (Apart from anything else, I'd say its use gives the text a darker feel at that point than "sang" would, in keeping with the melancholy associated with a swansong.)

    #2AuthorBion (1092007) 28 Apr 20, 14:12

    The madrigal appeared in printed form in 1612 - I've just looked at a facsimile of it (it is online at IMSLP )

    and both words do indeed appear there as "sung". Have a look and have a sing!

    #3Author Ecgberht (469528) 28 Apr 20, 16:03

    Thank you for your comments so far.

    I didn’t know that it was a madrigal. This performance is really beautiful:


    The first time I encountered it was many years ago at a banquet where it was recited by an excellent scientist soon to retire. The emphasis, with some humour, was on the last line

    “more geese than swans now live, more fools than wise”.

    #4AuthorViking_ (925763)  28 Apr 20, 20:27

    Kam mir dabei in den Sinn:

    Swans sing, before they die;

    'twere no bad thing

    should certain people die

    before they sing.  

    #5Author Reinhard W. (237443) 01 May 20, 12:26

    @Ecgberht #3:

    That's a clever idea to check IMSLP for an early text. That would not have occurred to me.

    I use IMSLP frequently for musical scores, but I usually care about the notes, not the text! And I was not aware that IMSLP had manuscripts as early as 1612.

    #6Author eric (new york) (63613) 01 May 20, 15:50

    @eric: IMSLP is indeed excellent. There are thousands of facsimiles of renaissance printed works which are very useable to perform from IF you can persuade others to make the effort (if only!), as well as transcriptions which I use with my recorder consort. There are some mediaeval manuscripts but that needs a much more specialised skill set and I rely on transcriptions, often from CPDL. (There are specific mediaeval manuscript websites if you look for them - good for ogling over but one needs to be a specialist to perform from them.) The joys of the internet!

    #7Author Ecgberht (469528) 01 May 20, 17:27

    @Ecgberht: "good for ogling over but one needs to be a specialist to perform from them."

    You mean because of the movable C-clef?

    Also, I guess the shape-notes are unfamiliar and distracting to a contemporary musician. And the notes are crowded.

    #8Author eric (new york) (63613)  01 May 20, 18:06

    @eric: clefs are the same problem for mediaeval and renaissance music (not much of a problem given goodwill from the fellow musicians that you try to lead along untrodden paths) but the ligatures and proportional systems are much more of a headache in mediaeval music. Wiki on Mensural Notation at will tell you more than you probably want to know. Musica ficta also is an issue and is not always as simple as it is sometimes made out to be - you need to understand solmisation and the music itself - it's not always a question of a couple of simple rules. In contrast, renaissance notation is essentially modern but without beaming and barlines. The note shapes are easy to learn. No bar numbers, so if you get lost you are left high and dry if you are one to a part. Some people are transcribing renaissance pieces using original notation but with modern typesetting (which makes it much more readable) and that is a good transition into playing from original prints. I've tried to recruit my friends to have a go but they are all stick in the muds around here. You might like to have a go at it - start with modern clefs but no barlines eg free excellent pieces at

    #9Author Ecgberht (469528) 02 May 20, 00:21
    >>No bar numbers, so if you get lost you are left high and dry if you are one to a part.

    I took part in a workshop decades ago where we had the opportunity to try, very briefly and casually, singing from a Renaissance score, and found that to be exactly the problem -- there's no reference point. Unfortunately, that experiment was during a lecture (by David Skinner IIRC), with 60 or 80 people of a wide mix of skills and experience, seated in rows in a lecture-style class, and predictably, it crashed and burned once or twice and there wasn't time to keep trying. (Dang. I really wanted just one more shot at it.)

    I think it would work out if the singers basically learned their parts and how they fit together by repetition in rehearsal, and then only needed the score during services as a kind of aide de memoire, a shorthand crib. Which is more or less how most of us sing pieces we know well today, after all. But I don't picture Renaissance choristers just standing up and sight-singing largely error-free, the way good readers can from a modern vocal score.

    Unless perhaps their memory and counting skills were simply much more developed by practice? I think actually we've had this conversation before, but anyway -- I picture it as analogous to the way the human brain gradually transitioned, first from oral to written culture, and then from reading aloud, sounding out words more slowly, to modern speed reading, skimming over entire phrases and even paragraphs at a glance. I can't remember whether people in the 16th century still went into another room to read a private letter, for example, because 'reading' was not generally silent. I don't recall exactly when that changeover happened; perhaps mostly earlier, before the printed book, but it might still have been evolving to some extent.

    Anyway, I would totally be up for it in principle, and to visit your early-music group as well, if we ever reach the post-pandemic era. (-: Though it's been a long time since I played recorders, and longer ago any other instrument. Somehow picturesque English villages like the fictional Midsomer seem better supplied not only with gruesome murders, but also with people interested in those kinds of creative pursuits. Here in Texas outside major cities it doesn't seem to go much beyond cosplay, like SCA.

    #10Author hm -- us (236141)  02 May 20, 02:06

    @hm-us: " Somehow picturesque English villages like the fictional Midsomer seem better supplied not only with gruesome murders, but also with people interested in those kinds of creative pursuits. "

    Picturesque English villages contain a high proportion of people who can afford the premium prices of houses there (displacing the ordinary folk who used to live there and making it impossible for their children to remain in the countryside). Some of those more affluent people are also creative - but many have long commutes to cities and so seem to have no time for culture until they retire. So..... most creative village types that I come across are oldies, and how long will it before we/they come out of corona virus self-imposed lockdowns?

    Re gruesome murders - sadly the best you can hope for really is tragic cases of domestic nastiness sometimes escalating to murder. The Midsomer shows have been good for coach companies who run themed trips to the area used for filming.

    Back to the music: don't forget that, for choral music anyway, the singers were professionals who had been intensively trained from childhood and in whom the idiom was ingrained. They didn't have to sing pieces from across many different periods and could improvise counterpoint at sight - called singing from the book (useful if you get lost). But I think that you are right: they had the concentration, memory and fluency that one needs to be a good performer - abilities that mark out the able musician in any age ( and all of which I lack - but I do have enthusiasm and get great pleasure from what I can achieve, which is what I value most ).

    #11Author Ecgberht (469528) 02 May 20, 13:55
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