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Until about 1970 every English child learned a repertory of 'national songs' at school. It included traditional songs from Scotland, Wales and Ireland, but the bulk of them consisted of English popular songs from the 'long eighteenth century'—roughly from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. The repertory has often been thought of as 'folk music', but in fact it is quite different in character from the genuine folk songs collected in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Cecil Sharp, Percy Grainger and their associates. Despite the fact that they tend to deal with rural life, most of them are by professional 'art' composers working in London, and were written for the theatres or the pleasure gardens. Like many popular songs written more recently, they offer a nostalgic, urban evocation of the countryside, though they are none the worse for that. For this recording Peter Holman has mostly chosen pieces that can be traced back to an original setting by a named composer, though two of the beautiful settings of Scottish songs that J C Bach made in London in the 1770s have been included.
The most obvious way in which the developing sense of British national identity was celebrated in the repertory was through overtly patriotic songs such as Fairest Isle and Rule, Britannia, both of which can be heard here.
With many well-known songs, and sleeve notes which trace their source, this disc is sure to illuminate all!