A monk and nun playing music (BL Royal 2 B VII, f.177)
Advent is gone, Christmas is come;
Be we merry now, all and some!
He is not wise that will be dumb
In ortu Regis omnium.
Farewell, Advent, Christmas is come!
Farewell from us both all and some!
So says James Ryman, friar of Canterbury and carol collector extraordinaire, in a witty fifteenth-century carol celebrating the end of Advent - a welcome moment indeed for friars who had spent the season fasting! Friars, monks and clerics gave us some of the best-loved medieval carols, and they certainly earned their merriment. To obey Ryman's urging, here's a collection of links to a few especially merry medieval carols you might like to read or listen to today.
First, I've just written a guest post for Corymbus on the subject of a fifteenth-century carol which begins:
Nowell sing we now all and some,
For Rex pacificus is come.
In Bethlehem, in that fair city,
A child was born of a maiden free,
That shall a lord and prince be,
A solis ortus cardine.
Read about it here, and listen to this joyous modern setting by Elizabeth Maconchy:
A few years ago I wrote a post about the fifteenth-century carol 'Good day, Sir Christemas!' This year the composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad was commissioned to write a new carol for the BBC Music Magazine and decided to set my translation of the text. Read about it here and here, and listen to the carol here! It's so wonderful that new songs are still being created from these medieval texts - in this case, from a carol enjoyed (probably) by the monks of fifteenth-century Worcester.
Hey, ay, hey, ay,
Make we merry as we may!
Now is Yule come with gentyll cheer; [excellent fun]
In mirth and games he has no peer,
In every land where he comes near
Is mirth and games, I dare well say.
Now is come a messenger
Of your lord, Sir New Year,
Bids us all be merry here
And make us merry as we may.
Therefore every man that is here
Sing a carol in his manner;
If he knows none, we shall him lere [teach]
So that we be merry alway.
This comes from a carol of 1500, threatening dire things to those who refuse to sing carols at Christmas!
Nowel, nowel, nowel,
Nowel, nowel, nowel!
Out of your sleep arise and wake,
For God mankind now hath i-take
All of a maid without any make.
Of all women she beareth the bell...
Now blessed brother, grant us grace,
On doomsday to see thy face,
And in thy court to have a place,
That we may there sing 'nowel'.
From one of the loveliest fifteenth-century carols.
Here's a singing shepherd to encourage us to sing:
Can I not sing but 'Hoy,'
When the jolly shepherd made so much joy?
The shepherd upon a hill he sat;
He had on him his tabard and his hat,
His tar-box, his pipe, and his flagat; [bundle]
His name was called Jolly, Jolly Wat,
For he was a good shepherd's boy.
For with his pipe he made so much joy.
Puer natus to us was sent,
To bliss us bought, from bale us blent,
And else to woe we had ywent,
Both all and some.
Another carol from the Selden carol book.
And, of course: 'Welcome, Yule!'