Greensleves                Traditional
Susan Addington, Flute

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus


Greensleeves is traditionally ascribed to King Henry VIII. However, the piece is based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after Henry’s death, making it more likely Elizabethan in origin. In Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor (written, c.1597; first published in 1602), the character Mistress Ford refers twice to “the tune of ’Greensleeves’”, and Falstaff later exclaims: “Let the sky rain potatoes! Let it thunder to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’!”

Christmas and New Year texts were associated with the tune from as early as 1686, and by the 19th century almost every printed collection of Christmas carols included some version of words and music together, most of them ending with the refrain “On Christmas Day in the morning”.

One of the most popular of these lyrics is “What Child Is This?”, written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix (1837 – 1898). Dix was born in Bristol, England, the son of a local surgeon. He was educated at the grammar school in Bristol for a mercantile career, and became manager of a maritime insurance company in Glasgow where he spent most of his life. At the age of 29 he was struck with a near fatal illness and consequently suffered months confined to his bed. During this time he became severely depressed. Yet it is from this period that many of his hymns date, which include not only “What Child is This”, but also “As with Gladness Men of Old” and “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus”.