The music for this English tune was registered at the Worshipful Stationer’s Company in London (where copyrights were administered) in September 1580 by Richard Jones, as A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves. It was an instant hit, with six more ballads based upon the tune and lyrics being registered in less than a year. In 1584, the lyrics appeared in A Handful of Pleasant Delights as A New Courtly Sonnet of the Lady Green Sleeves. To the new tune of Green Sleeves.
While there are some sources and references that suggest King Henry VIII to be the composer, but the Italian/Spanish style of composition and the particular chord progressions used in the original were not known in Britain until the reign of Elizabeth I. Jones might have received recognition as the composer, except that Edward White registered a piece based on the same melody, A ballad, being the Ladie Greene Sleeves Answere to Donkyn his frende on the same day as Jones did, which set off a legal battle. (Neither Jones’ original broadside or White’s broadside are extant.) In any event, it seems the melody was known before Jones’ publication in 1580.
The earliest known version of the melody we have is from an anonymous 1592 manuscript, written in lute tablature. Most authorities list the tune of Greensleeves as a traditional one, with an unknown composer.
Shakespeare mentions Greensleeves in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and includes a mention of the piece in an elaborate joke.
The tune is also the basis for William Dix’s What Child is This?, a very popular Christmas carol.
This arrangement is conservative with a contrapuntal left hand (it technically is an early intermediate level piece, but the counterpoint was a consideration to increase the level), and some tasteful extended chords. Dynamic contrasts are explicitly given, and fingerings are provided.
Key: A minor
Pedagogy: contrapuntal music, dynamics, extended chords.