Forgotten Christmas carol to be brought back to life after 550 years by Newcastle Cathedral
by Alan Weedon
The carol is the first of its kind to have been found in a 15th-century service book. (Flickr: Michael D Beckwith)
Church-goers and music aficionados are in for a treat this Christmas, as Britain’s Newcastle Cathedral Choir will perform a medieval carol for the first time in over 500 years.
- Parit Virgo filium was found in a 15th-century manuscript at Cambridge University Library
- The work is the only example of a carol being jotted into a church service book
- The Newcastle Cathedral Choir will premiere the restored work at Newcastle Cathedral
Professor Andrew Wathey, vice-chancellor and chief executive of Newcastle’s Northumbria University, found the carol — Parit Virgo filium — in a 15th-century manuscript at Cambridge University Library.
“The original manuscript is in very poor shape,” Professor Wathey said in a statement to the university.
“Only the top part survives, as a single unaccompanied vocal line with both pitch and rhythm notated, usually a signal that other voice parts were to be provided from memory or following simple musical convention.”
The carol was added to a church service book in the early or mid-15th century, which then was broken up to bind another manuscript — a manuscript eventually acquired by the Cambridge University Library in 1996.
Common medieval carols are hard to come by as many notation manuscripts were recycled. (British Library)
The Professor, whose research examines late-medieval music in England and France, said that the instance of any kind of polyphonic music being jotted into a service book was rare.
“There are a handful of cases from this period where polyphonic music was jotted into service books (containing the plainsongs and texts of the liturgy), but this is the only such instance involving a carol,” he said.
“It provides fascinating new evidence for the use of carols in the Christmas liturgy in the fifteenth century.”
Speaking to the university, Newcastle Cathedral Choir director Ian Roberts said:
“For our boy and girl choristers this is a unique experience — to be the first choir to sing a carol that will have not been heard for 550 years.”
“It’s a delightful carol that deserves a place in the national repertoire of carols, and I’m proud this this could begin in Newcastle.”