The BBC (Radio 4) is broadcasting a series on Christmas Carols:
The Christmas carol is as popular now as it was when carolers celebrated the
birth of Edward III in 1312. Back then the carol was a generic term for a song
with its roots in dance form, nowadays only the strictest scholar would quibble
with the fact that a carol is a Christmas song.
But the journey the carol has
taken is unique in music history because each shift in the story has been
preserved in the carols that we sing today. Go to a carol concert now and you're
likely to hear folk, medieval, mid-victorian and modern music all happily
combined. It's hard to imagine that happening in any other situation.
In these programmes Jeremy Summerly follows the carol journey through the
Golden age of the Medieval carol into the troubled period of Reformation and
puritanism, along the byways of the 17th and 18th century waits and gallery
musicians and in to the sudden explosion of interest in the carol in the 19th
century. It's a story that sees the carol veer between the sacred and secular
even before there was any understanding of those terms. For long periods the
church, both catholic and protestant, was uneasy about the virility and homespun
nature of carol tunes and carol texts. Nowadays many people think that church
music is defined by the carols they hear from Kings College Cambridge.
He traces the folk carol in and out of church grounds, the carol hymn, the
fuguing carol and the many other off-shoots, some of which survive to this day
and many others which languish unloved but ready for re-discovery.
You may listen to the first episode for the next six days.