We’re going backwards in time a bit with this weeks tune. Like so many songs though, this one doesn’t instantly stop being played simply because the year turned 1600. In fact, the composer remained popular almost 100 years after his death.
Ludwig Senfl is not exactly a household name. Unless you have spent time singing early 16th century choral music you’ve probably never even heard of him. When it comes to Renaissance German language music & especially religious tunes from the era, Senfl is the man to know.
His career started simply enough as the member of a choir & skilled notist or copiest (aka historic xerox machine) but that was only the beginning. Sure he studied for the priesthood, like most former choirboys at the time. Sure he eventually gets swept up in the Protestant Reformation. But Senfl wasn’t content to spend his entire life in silent prayer regardless of the social change happening around him.
After leaving the priesthood, he spent some time as copiest to Netherlandish composer Heinrich Isaac while he served as composer to the Holy Roman Emperor. After Isaac’s death, Senfl took over the open position under Maximilian I. Unfortunately, Maximilian didn’t live long & Senfl found himself a free agent after only 2 years employment. Following that short lived career, he spent several years traveling, composing & writing before settling at a job Munich where he eventually died.
Now if all that makes you think this week’s tune is going to be some dirge-like religious monstrosity, aren’t you in for a surprise! Sure Senfl wrote an impressive collection of religious songs, masses, vespers and the like. But that isn’t his entire discography. He was just as prolific secularly as he was religiously. In fact, some of his secular songs are, well, down right dirty!
That brings us to this week’s tune, Im Maiem. Playing on the popular theme of love & romance, Senfl takes the story to the next logical step. For those that are curious but don’t speak enough German to understand the polyphonic singing, here are the lyrics as well as an English translation. Just be warned, this is the 16th century equivalent of Warrant’s “Cherry Pie”, Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” & all those other songs my mother censored when I was 13.
Im Maien, im Maien hört man die Hahnen kraien.
Freu’ dich, du schönes Bauernmeidl, wir wölln den Haber saien.
Du bist mir lieber denn der Knecht,
du tuest mir meine alte Recht.
Pumb, Maidlein, pumb!
Ich freu’ mich dein ganz umb und umb,
wo ich freundlich zue dir kumm,
hinter dem Ofen und umb und umb.
Freu’ dich, du schönes Bauernmaidl: ich kumm!
In May, in May we hear the cockerels crow
Rejoice you pretty peasant maid, it’s time for us to sow our oats
You are dearer to me than the farmhand
You give me my ancient right
Boom little maid boom
I take pleasure in all of you from every side
wherever I come to you bringing love
behind the oven and every which way
Rejoice, you pretty little peasant maid, here I come!