Sweet honey-sucking bees – John Wilbye

This piece, written by John Wilbye, is divided into two parts. The first part is the shorter one with a duration of 2 minutes, whereas the second part takes 3 minutes. Generally, one can notice that some parts of this piece are reflecting the title really well, sounding a bit hectic and “busy”. The volume stays the same throughout most of the piece. It is written for a mixed choir.

For the first part, the piece starts, as already mentioned above in a hectic way. The voices seem to be singing without any structure, but still manage to build on one general mood. From the beginning to the end of the piece this “chaos” seems to become more organised and calm, so that by the end of the first part it seems as if the bees had settled down a bit more. Question-answer motifs are used often, whereas the female voices usually sing the first part and the male voices answer it.

The whole first part of the piece is written in minor and can get quite dramatic at times, at the very end of this part, Wilbye placed an open chord, which isn’t even dissolved by the first note of the second part.

The first half of the second part sounds incredibly similar to the first one, the first change that occurs is the very first major-chord that is being sung by the choir. This chord is the start of a short sequence of a major key signature, despite the text moving onto darker subjects. A ritardando as well as a diminuendo are used at the very end. Even though the passages right before the end are minor again, the very last chord is in a major key.

The text of the piece is the following:

Part 1

Sweet honey-sucking bees, why do you still
surfeit on roses, pinks and violets,
as if the choicest nectar lay in them
wherewith you store your curious cabinets?
Ah, make your flight to Melisuavia’s lips.
There may you revel in ambrosian cheer,
where smiling roses and sweet lilies sit,
Keeping their springtide graces all the year.

Part 2
Yet, sweet, take heed, all sweets are hard to get:
Sting not her soft lips, O, beware of that,
for if one flaming dart come from her eye,
was never dart so sharp, ah, then you die.


I usually prefer minor pieces to major pieces, in this case I became rather bored as the second part started. I found that the “chaos” that ended up being more structured in the end was great, it kept me interested and especially the open chord at the end of the first part had an unusual effect. Nevertheless, the first half of the second part was incredibly monotonous, seemed to be always at the same point. The short major part as well as the end made a nice change to that, but all in all, compared to the other pieces from this period I’ve listened to so far, I thought it was one of the less interesting ones.