Westron Wynde

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Westron Wynde is an early 16th-century song whose tune was used as the basis (cantus firmus) of Masses by English composers John Taverner, Christopher Tye and John Sheppard. The tune first appears with words in a partbook of around 1530, which contains mainly keyboard music. Historians[citation needed] believe that the lyrics are a few hundred years older ('Middle English') and the words are a fragment of medieval poetry.


The lyrics of the original were decidedly secular:

'Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow,
The small raine down can raine.
Cryst, if my love were in my armes
And I in my bedde again!'

Recovering the original tune of Westron Wynde that was used in these Masses is not entirely straightforward. There is a version that uses the secular words, but with rather different notes:[1]

"Western Wind" secular lyric version

About this soundPlay 

The version used by the three Mass composers can only be inferred by what they put into their Masses. In program notes (see below), Peter Phillips offers the following reconstruction:

"Western Wind" Mass version

About this soundPlay 

But this is not always exactly what appears in the Masses; thus the New Grove quotes the following sequence from Taverner's Mass:[citation needed]

"Western Wind" Taverner's version

About this soundPlay 

For the words being sung here, see Mass (music).


Westron Wynde was put to music by Igor Stravinsky as a movement (Westron Wind) of his Cantata (1952).[citation needed]

The American folk group The Limeliters (Louis Gottlieb, Alex Hassilev, and Glenn Yarbrough) recorded a version using a variation of the first tune above, with modern English stanzas interpolated. Both the variation and the interpolated stanzas were most likely written by the Limeliters themselves, one of whom (Gottlieb) was a musicologist and would have been familiar with the original song.

The British guitarist John Renbourn recorded his own arrangement of the tune for two guitars on his 1970 album The Lady and the Unicorn.[citation needed] The song has been recorded by Maddy Prior and Tim Hart on the album Summer Solstice and by Barbara Dickson on Full Circle.[citation needed]

The British band Current 93 recorded an extended and modified version of the song sometime between 1982 and 1995, adding various new lines. This version, however, was never released until 2010.[2]

The British band Saint Etienne produced a version of Westron Wynde on their album Tiger Bay which is similar to the first arrangement above, but with a separate instrumental sequence added between verses.[citation needed]

British composer Roger Jackson used the text and added a new verse in an entirely new setting in 2014.

"Eye of Heaven, pray gently smile,
And though the cold wind blow,
Soft, may you warm and mind my love
That I do love her so"

In popular culture[edit]

In The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson) sang this song in the presence of Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent).

In the 2011 BBC television miniseries South Riding, schoolmistress Sarah Burton (played by Anna Maxwell Martin) quotes Westron Wynde, telling her favourite student that, though it was written 400 years ago, it still sounds modern.[citation needed]

In Walter Tevis's dystopian science fiction novel Mockingbird, the poem is quoted frequently by the main character as he learns what true love is and is pining for his lover.

The poem is quoted in Madeleine L'Engle's book The Small Rain (1945)

The text is recited by the madman Humble Jewett in Wilbur Daniel Steele's short story "How Beautiful with Shoes".

Virginia Woolf used the poem in The Waves.

Ernest Hemingway used this poem in his novel, “A Farewell To Arms” (1929).

It is also used repeatedly in Marta Randall's book "Dangerous Games" (1980).

It is mournfully recited by Erika Anderson's cuckold husband Thierry [Judge Reinhold] in the 1991 thriller "Zandalee" [3]

Thomas Pynchon's first published story, "The Small Rain" (1959), takes its title from the poem's second line. The story is reprinted in his collection Slow Learner (1984).

Ernest Hemingway used the poem in "A Farewell to Arms"


  1. ^ London: British Library MS Royal Appendix 58, f.5; also Benham, Hugh: Early English Church Music vol. 35, John Taverner: IV, Four- and Five-Part Masses. London, Stainer & Bell, 1989
  2. ^ "Current 93 – Unreleased Rarities, Out-Takes, Rehearsals And Live 82-95". Discogs. Discogs. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  3. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101004/


  • Peter Phillips's reconstruction is taken from his program notes for his recording Western Wind Masses: Taverner, Tye Sheppard, released 1993 on compact disc by Gimell Records, 454 927-2.
  • The remaining musical examples above are adapted from versions given in the online version (2004) of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.