The round is sometimes known as the Reading rota because the manuscript comes from Reading Abbey though it may not have been written there. It is the oldest piece of six-part polyphonic music (Albright, 1994). Its composer is anonymous, possibly W. de Wycombe, and it is estimated to date from around 1260. The manuscript is now at the British Library. The language is Middle English, more exactly Wessex dialect.
To sing as a round, one singer would begin at the beginning, and a second would start at the beginning as the first got to the point marked with the red cross. The length between the start and the cross corresponds to the modern notion of a bar, and the main verse comprises six phrases spread over twelve such bars. In addition, there are two lines marked "Pes", two bars each, that are meant to be sung together repeatedly underneath the main verse. These instructions are included (in Latin) in the manuscript itself.
The music is somewhat more readable in modern notation:
†written "χρ̅icola" in the manuscript
It was sung in the 1982 animated film The Flight of Dragons by the knight Sir Orin Neville-Smythe to drown out the sound of the sand merks.
The song was used in the 1993 film Shadowlands, the story of the romance between C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. In that film, a choir of men and boys greets the sun at dawn on the summer solstice with the song. In the soundtrack recording released on Angel, the choir of Magdalen College, Oxford, was featured.
The round sung by the mice in the 1974 British Children's TV Show Bagpuss, starting with the words "We will fix it...", is to the tune of "Sumer is icumin in".
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