Morley’s role in the development of an English music was to light the fuse on the explosive and colourful vogue for madrigal composition in England with the publication in 1588 of his Musica transalpina, a collection of Italian madrigals fitted with English texts.
Originally from East Anglia, he studied under Byrd and had a long career as a composer and organist. He lived in the same parish as Shakespeare and it is claimed that he wrote the music for many of the plays.
This madrigal is based on a text used by Orazio Vecchi in 1590.
The song delights in bawdy double-entendre. It is apparently about spring dancing, but this is a metaphor for sex. For example, a “barley-break” would have suggested outdoor sexual activity (rather like we might say a “roll in the hay”). The use of such imagery and puns increased during the Renaissance.
The madrigal forms a key part of Oxford’s May Morning celebrations, where the choir of Magdalen College sing the verses from the roof of the college’s Great Tower.
This article is taken from a wikipedia article on the madrigal, it also includes the lyrics.