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Roses of Picardy

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Wikipedia article

"'Roses of Picardy'" is a popular British 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.Stone, David. [https://www.gsarchive.net/whowaswho/G/GriffinElsie.htm "Elsie Griffin"]. 'Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company', 27 August 2001, accessed 3 July 2013 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. 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.

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 ( in 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.


The following lyric is taken from the sheet music published in 1916:

Verse 1:

: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!

Verse 2:

: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:

There is also a French version of the song under the title of "Dansons la Rose". The following words for its refrain are taken from the recording by Yves Montand:[http://www.jukebox.fr/yves-montand/clip,dansons-la-rose,q5llmr.html "Live Dansons La RoseYves Montand"] (01/01/1989) Jukebox.fr'Olympia 81: Extraits' (7 April 1998) Philips audio CD

:Dire que cet air nous semblait vieillot,

:Aujourd'hui il me semble nouveau,

:Et puis surtout c'tait toi et moi,

:Ces deux mots ne vieillissent pas.

:Souviens-toi a parlait de la Picardie,

:Et des roses qu'on trouve l-bas,

:Tous les deux amoureux nous avons dans

:Sur les roses de ce temps-l.


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. Singer, Dorothy Squires recorded various versions of the song. 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 2001, the folk stylist June Tabor recorded a version for her album 'Rosa Mundi'. 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:

* As played by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies (jazz) in 1929:

* As sung by Peter Dawson (bass-baritone) in 1939:

* As played by Wayne King and his orchestra (orchestral waltz) in 1941:

*As sung by Perry Como in 1949:

* As sung by Mario Lanza (tenor) in 1952:

* As played by Sidney Bechet (swing) in the 1950s:

* As sung by Frank Sinatra in 1962:

* As sung by June Tabor in 2001:

* As played by a Pianola:

Notes and references



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