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The Sussex mummer's Christmas carol

composer
arranger
Traditional

 
Percy Grainger’s fascinatingly original and attractive music has become well known in recent years and has been championed by many distinguished musicians, not least by Benjamin Britten who made a recording of a fascinating selection of works which betrayed a lively enthusiasm on the part of the younger composer. Although Grainger is regarded loosely as a ‘British’ composer, he was actually Australian by birth, came to Europe in his teens, and finally settled in America in 1914 (when he was 32). The ‘Englishness’ with which he is associated has much more to do with the fact that he was an indefatigable collector and arranger of folksongs, many of which were from the British Isles.

The Sussex Mummers’ Christmas Carol is one such arrangement, originally made for violin or cello and piano but personally sanctioned in this version by Grainger. And how well it sits in the violist’s hands! Grainger’s extraordinary ear for perfect sonorities, his seemingly unerring sense of the rightness of the placing of notes in a chord, serves him particularly well in this carol. Two of his great musical heros were Frederick Delius and Edvard Grieg. On this occasion it is Grieg who receives the posthumous dedication: ‘Lovingly and reverently dedicated to the memory of Edvard Grieg’. Grainger was meticulous in recording on his scores all the details of composition, so we learn that this setting was begun in 1905 and completed ten years later. The tune was taken down by Miss Lucy Broadwood at Lyne, near Horsham, Sussex, in 1880 and ’81 from the singing of Christmas mummers called ‘tipteers’ or ‘tipteerers’ during their play of ‘St George, the Turk, and the Seven Champions of Christendom’. The first verse goes as follows:

O mortal man, remember well
When Christ our Lord was born;
He was crucified betwixt two thieves
And crowned with the thorn.

Other verses are on the ‘God bless the master of this house’ theme. Grainger’s dark, Bourneville-chocolate harmonies are perfectly matched with the colour of the viola in this lovely setting.

from notes by Paul Spicer © 1994

Recordings

English Music for Viola
CDH55085Last few CD copies remaining
Smörgasbord
CDA67184

Details

Track-specific metadata for CDA67184 track 3

Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-01-18403
Duration
3'06
Recording date
12 October 2000
Recording venue
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Arne Akselberg
Hyperion usage
  1. Smörgasbord (CDA67184)
    Disc 1 Track 3
    Release date: September 2001
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