A few weeks ago I was trying to sort out the blogging rota. As the MusiCB3 bloggers headed off for their Christmas breaks I was left with the Yuletide blog that will take us into the New Year. I thought I knew exactly what I was going to blog about – something festive, perhaps traditional Christmas music in East Anglia? You’d think it would be easy – after all there were plenty of collections of traditional folksongs dating from Victorian times into the twentieth century, but to my growing frustration I discovered that most of the collections came from the west of England. There seemed to be nothing from the east…
The Trinity Carol Roll (MS O.3.58), a parchment scroll over six feet long, is the earliest source for English polyphonic carols. Dating from the early 15th century in East Anglia, the roll contains words and musical notation on a five line stave for thirteen carols in Middle English and Latin. These include the patriotic ‘Deo gracias Anglia!‘, also known as the ‘Agincourt Carol’, celebrating Henry V’s victory over the French in 1415, and the popular ‘Ther is no rose’, which was later arranged by Benjamin Britten for his Ceremony of Carols in 1942.
Not all of the carols are intended to be sung at Christmas. A carol in the Middle Ages was a festive song sung at any time of year, often religious in theme but not a part of church worship. They were often the accompaniment to circle dances, processions or Mystery Plays. Carols in general saw a decline after the Protestant Reformation, but Christmas Carols have remained popular and some are among the oldest music still performed regularly.
Below is a verse from ‘Nowel, Nowel, Nowel’, a Christmas carol from the Trinity Carol Roll:
In bedlem this berde of lyf
Is born of marye maydyn and wyf
He is bothe god and man i-schryf
Thys prince of pees shal secynal stryf
And wone wyth us perpetuel.
[In Bethlehem this bird of life
Is born of Mary, maiden and wife
He is both God and man I shrife
This prince of peace shall cease all strife
And wone with us perpetual.]
You can listen to a recording of the Trinity College Choir singing ‘Ther is no rose’ (arr. John Stevens) as a part of their Advent Carol Service on 30 November, 2014 on the Choir webpage. The entire Carol Roll was also recorded by the early music consort Alamire. Their album, Deo Gracias Anglia!, was recorded in the Wren Library in 2011.
It is now possible to search the online James Catalogue by donor. Around 100 donors are named. The earliest significant bequests to the Library came at the beginning of the 17th century from four people: John Whitgift, Master of the College and later Archbishop of Canterbury; Sir Edward Stanhope (a former fellow who also left money in his will of 1603 to support a Librarian and sub-Librarian); Thomas Nevile, another clergyman and Master of the College between 1593 and 1615; and George Wilmer (died 1626). Together they presented about 300 high quality manuscripts and these form the basis of the fine collection Trinity holds today. Many of these manuscripts were saved from monastic libraries at the time of the dissolution; another new facility allows users to search the catalogue by religious house.
Other significant donors to the collection were Thomas and Roger Gale. Thomas Gale amassed a large collection which was presented to the College by his son Roger in 1738. Their bequest constitutes the manuscripts classified under O. Later donors include the poet John Dryden, a former fellow, who bequeathed ten volumes and Sir Henry Puckering whose donation included the famous Milton manuscript (R.3.4).
More about donors to the Library can be found in James’ prefaces to his Catalogue.