Roses of Picardy
"Roses of Picardy" is a British popular song with lyrics by Frederick Weatherly and music by Haydn Wood. Published in London in 1916 by Chappell & Co, it was one of the most famous songs of the First World War and has been recorded frequently up to the present day.
The lyricist Fred Weatherly had become impressed with beauty of the voice of the soprano Elsie Griffin, who later became a leading artiste with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Her singing of his compositions resulted in his writing two of the most popular hits of the 20th-century "Danny Boy" (1910) and "Roses of Picardy". The composer Haydn Wood wrote the music for over 200 ballads, of which "Roses of Picardy" became his most popular. Wood related that, as he was going home one night on the top of a London bus, the melody came to him. He jumped off the bus and wrote down the refrain on an old envelope while standing under a street lamp.
The exact story that lies behind the words of the song is unclear, but in his 1926 memoirs, Weatherly suggested that it concerned a love affair of one of his close friends.[Note 1] Weatherly travelled in France visiting the Rhone valley and Chamonix. Picardy was a historical province of France which stretched from north of Noyon to Calais via the whole of the Somme department and the north of the Aisne department. This area contained the Somme battlefields – the scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the First World War.[Note 2]
The song quickly became popular throughout Britain, with British soldiers singing it when they enlisted for the Front in France and Flanders. During the First World War, the song sold at a rate of 50,000 copies of the sheet music per month, earning Haydn Wood approximately £10,000 in total (£439,324 in 2017 adjusted for inflation). Following the war, the singing of the song helped soldiers who were suffering from Shell shock to regain their powers of speech.
- She is watching by the poplars, Colinette with the sea-blue eyes,
- She is watching and longing and waiting Where the long white roadway lies.
- And a song stirs in the silence, As the wind in the boughs above,
- She listens and starts and trembles, 'Tis the first little song of love:
- Roses are shining in Picardy, in the hush of the silver dew,
- Roses are flowering in Picardy, but there's never a rose like you!
- And the roses will die with the summertime, and our roads may be far apart,
- But there's one rose that dies not in Picardy!
- 'tis the rose that I keep in my heart!
- And the years fly on for ever, Till the shadows veil their skies,
- But he loves to hold her little hands, And look in her sea-blue eyes.
- And she sees the road by the poplars, Where they met in the bygone years,
- For the first little song of the roses Is the last little song she hears:
- Dire que cet air nous semblait vieillot,
- Aujourd'hui il me semble nouveau,
- Et puis surtout c'était toi et moi,
- Ces deux mots ne vieillissent pas.
- Souviens-toi ça parlait de la Picardie,
- Et des roses qu'on trouve là-bas,
- Tous les deux amoureux nous avons dansé
- Sur les roses de ce temps-là.
Among the earliest commercial recordings were those by the tenors Lambert Murphy in 1917, Ernest Pike in 1918 and John McCormack in 1919. There are more than 150 recordings of the song sung in English and versions in Finnish, French, Spanish and German. There are also many instrumental versions, for example for piano, violin, string ensemble, jazz band and numerous different types of orchestra.
After the Second World War, the American jazz artist Sidney Bechet, a long-time resident in France, popularised a Swing version, and it was also recorded by the French popular singer Yves Montand. In 1967 Vince Hill had a Top 20 hit with the song, and in 2011 the tenor Alfie Boe recorded it for the soundtrack of the British period drama television series Downton Abbey. In 2011 the Canadian tenor Ben Heppner recorded the song for BMG.
Listen to the song
You can use the following links to listen to the song being performed:
- As sung by Lambert Murphy (tenor) in 1917: on YouTube
- As played by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies (jazz) in 1929: on YouTube
- As sung by Peter Dawson (bass-baritone) in 1939: on YouTube
- As played by Wayne King and his orchestra (orchestral waltz) in 1941: on YouTube
- As sung by Mario Lanza (tenor) in 1952: on YouTube
- As played by Sidney Bechet (swing) in the 1950s: on YouTube
- As sung by Frank Sinatra in 1962: on YouTube
- As played by a Pianola: on YouTube
Notes and references
- It seems unlikely that the love affair involved Weatherly himself, as he was a retired barrister, aged 66, when the First World War started.
- By the end of November 1916, 650,000 Allies and 500,000 Germans had been killed in the Battle of the Somme.
- Weatherly died in 1929, so the lyrics for this song have been out of copyright in the UK since 1 January 2000.
- Stone, David. "Elsie Griffin". Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 27 August 2001, accessed 3 July 2013
- The Stage, 8 February 1990, p. 27. Elsie Griffin
- The Stage, 19 March 1959, p. 6. "Haydn Wood Dies"
- Fred E. Weatherly, Piano and Gown, G. P. Putnam & Sons, London, 1926
- 20th Century Day by Day, Dorling Kindersley, London, New York, Sydney, 1999, p. 222, ISBN 0-7513-0765-3
- The Evening Telegraph, 5 April 1928, p. 2. Song swept the country
- UK Consumer Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Gregory Clark (2016), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)", MeasuringWorth.com.
- The Evening Telegraph, 2 February 1920, p. 10. Treatment for Shell shock
- "Roses of Picardy", Sheet music, Chappell & Co., Ltd., London, 1916.
- "Live Dansons La RoseYves Montand" (01/01/1989) Jukebox.fr
- Olympia 81: Extraits (April 7, 1998) Philips audio CD
- Victor Online Discography. Accessed 12 June 2013
- Peter Martland, Since Records Began EMI The First 100 Years, Batsford Ltd., EMI Group Plc, 1997, p. 76. ISBN 0-7134-6207-8
- Haydn Wood Website – with full discography. Accessed 13 June 2013