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Problems in the Performance and Historiography of English Popular Church Music

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Vic Gammon



In this essay I present a focussed critique of some tendencies in modern performance of, and recent writing about English popular church music from the eighteenth and earlier nineteenth centuries. Drawing on my own research, I subject the musical direction of Peter Holman to scrutiny in terms of what is known about aspects of popular performance in the period. Questions are posed about the nature of Holman’s ‘historically informed’ performance in the light of his recording of ‘Old Foster’ and one example of a ‘field recording’ of the same piece as it has survived in aural tradition among group of carol singers at the Royal Hotel, Dungworth. Recordings of both pieces are given thanks to the kind permissions of Hyperion Records and Village Carols. In the following part of the paper I subject some aspects of Christopher Turner’s essay ‘The Decline of the Gallery Tradition’ to scrutiny. I criticise the essay arguing that there are problems with its sources, its historical demography and its lack of contextualisation within the wider history of nineteenth century popular culture, and therefore problems with its conclusions. What links both the performances and the historical writing amounts to an attempt to sanitize this popular church music, assimilating it to recent ‘early music’ performance practices and a gradualist and comfortable view of social history. In both these respects the works discussed misrepresent the music and its context and are likened to many aspects of the ‘heritage industry’, which give a rosy and misleading view of the past.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Gammon V

Publication type: Article

Journal: Radical Musicology

Year: 2006

Volume: 1

Pages: -

ISSN (print): 1751-7788

Publisher: International Centre for Music Studies, Newcastle University



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