Friday 15 December 2006

New folksongs

I've just been writing the programme notes for London Concord Singers concert on Thursday Dec 21st (at the Grosvenor Chapel). Besides the real music we are doing a selection of Christmas carols so I had to find something to say about them.

It was easy for Silent Night because the carol's history is so fascinating. Existing just on the cusp of awareness of intellectual copyright it was spread widely in manuscript owing to the carol's popularity and when first published was simply credited as a Tirol song. But an early copyright investigation in the 1850's enabled the composer's son to write a deposition which established his father as the writer of the music.

This sort of modern, created folk-song came to mind again last night when we singing carols at a hotel in central London as part of the entertainment for arriving guests. Naturally we used Carols for Choirs, books 1 and 2, the books that virtually every amateur choral singer possesses. We'd not rehearsed, because everyone knew the arrangements of the well known pieces, as they'd sung them so many times before. In fact, if you gather choral singers together to sing from carol word sheets most of them can sing the arrangements from memory. And David Willcocks's descants to Hark the Herald and other carols have effectively passed from being composed music into folk memory. Virtually every choral soprano knows them and can sing them from memory.

This is one of the few modern occasions where the symbiosis between oral and written musical culture is still in existence. We know understand that the old folk music culture did not exist in vacuo but had a symbiotic relationship with the printed examples produced on broad sheets etc. This only broke down with the change in society in the late 19th century. But its nice to feel that aspects of this relationship continue in the use of those humble books Carols for Choirs.

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