Sunday, December 08, 2013

What is a Carol?

Although most of us would generally define a carol as a verse song written for Christmas, the origins of the carol are quite different. In medieval England, carolers would stand in a circle and sing a refrain, and a soloist in the centre of the circle would sing (and possibly dance) the verses. Crucially, the refrain, or burden, would open the carol, as well as follow each verse. It is this structure which originally defined the essence of a Carol, and it didn't have to have a Christmas text, nor even a religious one (the Agincourt Carol being such an example). In England our understanding of the carol nowadays is largely shaped by the major Victorian Christmas hymns and epitomised by the world famous Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge, broadcast to the nation annually on Christmas Eve. Starting tomorrow on BBC Radio 4 is a series which explores the origins of the English Carol and the traditions which have developed over the centuries. Entitled 'A Cause for Caroling', Jeremy Summerly presents ten episodes of fifteen minutes each which will be broadcast Monday to Friday over the next two weeks at 1.45pm GMT. More information is available at the BBC website here. You can listen online or use the 'listen again' link to catch up later.

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