Newly discovered carol to be performed for the first time in 550 years

19 December 2018, 12:45 | Updated: 20 December 2018, 09:40

By Elizabeth Davis

A carol that hasn’t been heard since the 15th century will be performed at Newcastle Cathedral this Christmas Eve

The carol is called Parit Virgo filium and it was discovered and transcribed from a 15th-century manuscript in Cambridge University Library by Professor Andrew Wathey, Vice-Chancellor of Northumbria University.

“The original manuscript is in very poor shape,” he said. “Only the top part survives, as a single unaccompanied vocal line with both pitch and rhythm notated, usually a signal that other voice parts were to be provided from memory or following simple musical convention.”

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The carol was added to the foot of a service book in the early or mid-15th century. That book was then broken up and used to bind another manuscript, which in turn was acquired by Cambridge University Library in 1996.

Cambridge University Library, where the carol was rediscovered
Cambridge University Library, where the carol was rediscovered. Picture: Getty

Professor Wathey said: “There are a handful of cases from this period where polyphonic music was jotted into service books (containing the plainsongs and texts of the liturgy), but this is the only such instance involving a carol: it provides fascinating new evidence for the use of carols in the Christmas liturgy in the fifteenth century”.

The carol will be performed on Christmas Eve by Newcastle Cathedral Choir directed by Ian Roberts at the Cathedral’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

Ian said: “For our boy and girl choristers this is a unique experience – to be the first choir to sing a carol that will have not been heard for 550 years. It’s a delightful carol that deserves a place in the national repertoire of carols, and I’m proud this this could begin in Newcastle.”