Villeins’ Song

Caroline Heaton wrote the text of The Villeins’ Song to bring “the audience’s attention to the present day issues of justice and liberty (and their opposites) inherent in the first two pieces. I had in mind, too, the charity you have so appropriately chosen.” Malcolm Hill set the music (mj348) to exploit some of the tunings in use at the time of Magna Carta.

The first performance (listen below) was on 12th November 2016 at St James’s Priory, Bristol.

The piece opens with a preface from Bracton’s Laws and Customs of England in the 13th Century (sung “with an ironic voice” by Peter Hodgson). Then all of Caroline Heaton’s poem is sung by Jane Hunt, accompanied by a movable string drone (using ancient intonation) on either hurdy-gurdy or viola. Part of the text:

“We are in the margins of your Breviary,

Villeins, we tend our half virgate

at fee from the manor, our labour,

our person, both bound in tenancy –

even our families un-free.

Overlooked in the Great Ones’ Charter

save as source of revenue,

we find our liberty elsewhere,

in nature’s fickle bounty:

but we read the great Book of the Seasons

and are written there, in the hedgerows

marking the fields, in the plough lines

our oxen inscribe, in the rich loam.”

Text and music copyright of the authors.