The English Carol


"The genius of the present age," wrote William Sandys in the year 1833, "requires work and not play." The reader who perseveres to the end of this book will perhaps feel that what I here write is chiefly an exposition of that text from Sandys. That, indeed, is what I feel I ought to do. Much learned work has been done during the past generation or two by way of establishing the sources and editing the manuscripts of our earliest carols, not to mention the discoveries that have been made since about 1880 in the field of the folk-carol, and there would be nothing gained by going over that ground again. My purpose is to tell the story of the carol, which story I owe entirely to the learned writers and researchers whom I am about to name; but as the story unfolds itself I hope to show what comment it offers on the developing social and religious life of our country over a period of half a thousand years.

The two learned treatises to which we stand chiefly in debt for our knowledge of the earliest carols (if indeed they are the earliest) are Dr. R. L. Greene The Early English Carols and the fourth volume, edited by Mr. John Stevens, of Musica Britannica, entitled Medieval Carols. Dr. Greene's book, which at the time of writing is almost impossible to obtain outside the libraries, is a close study of those medieval carols which survived in manuscripts dated before 1550, preceded by an introduction of 145 pages, which remains the classic work on the subject. The body of the book contains the texts of 474 medieval carols, critically edited, with explanatory notes following. The Musica Britannica volume is a similarly critical edition of such music associated with these medieval carols as has survived in manuscripts of the same period. Here we have 135 musical settings, mostly polyphonic, but a few monodic, with all the necessary critical apparatus added, and a brief but important introduction. A comparison of the 474 with the 135 shows at once that about seventy per cent of the music of these carols has perished.

But these two works deal with the carol only in a specialised and . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1959


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