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Behind the Music

A Carol is Born


The first Christmas carols are believed to have come from songs performed during important Christian feasts. These songs invited parishioners to participate in the ceremony through their beautiful melodies, dance-like rhythms, and instructive texts. Several of these carols are performed in The Second Shepherds' Play , including the opening tune Nova, Nova as well as There is no Rose of such Virtue and Nowell, Nowell.


The Sounds of Christmas


All of the music in the Folger Consort's production of  The Second Shepherds' Play is of English origin, and most is from the 15th century or earlier.


The play opens with some of the very few surviving instrumental pieces from 14th-century England—a monophonic estampie, or medieval dance.


Angelus ad virginem/Gabriel fram heven-king, which follows, is a wonderful example of the merry sound of imperfect tones. This piece has the distinction of being the one piece of music that has a direct association with Geoffrey Chaucer: the young scholar in “The Miller’s Tale” sings it to charm his lady visitors!


Old does not mean inferior or less sophisticated. There is a strength and power in these tunes, words, and forms that still speaks directly to us, perhaps in ways that later music has neglected in favor of other charms.

Medieval Harp

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