Friday, 16 December 2011

A Medieval Mass for Christmas Day and the Carol of the Three Kings

There is a festive theme to this week’s Library blog post, which will be the final instalment of the year!  The first document I’ve selected relates to the celebration of Christmas Day in the twelfth century.  It is a fragment from a missal (or mass-book), which contains part of the third of three masses for Christmas Day along with masses for St Stephen (26th December) and St John the Evangelist (27th December).  This manuscript would have been very beautiful when it was complete; the colours of the initial letters are still striking today.

The second document is a copy of ‘A Carol of the Three Kings’ from Christmas 1915.  W. D. V. Duncombe, who wrote the ‘Three Kings’, sent this charmingly annotated version of his latest work to Ivor Atkins, the organist and choirmaster at Worcester between 1897 and 1950.

Duncombe declares on the first page that ‘The peculiar lumbering gait of the camel is imitated in the rhythm of the music’.  The camel theme is further pursued in the subsequent marginal notes, which include references to ‘camels getting tired’, and ‘camels flump themselves down clumsily, sulkily’.  So next time you sing ‘We Three Kings’, spare a thought for the plight of those grumpy camels!


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