Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 April 2002
The Musical Renaissance of the late Victorian era incurred both rediscovery and reappraisal of the English musical heritage. The isolated endeavours of a handful of pioneering collectors from the oral tradition stimulated the institution of a Folk-Song Society with the aim of gathering what remained of a rapidly disappearing national resource. This article examines competing interpretations of the nature and potential application of folk-song. Cecil Sharp, who quickly assumed leadership of the folk-song movement, adopted and refined the notion that communal origin and transmission imbued folk-song with the national character and spirit. Its strategic use in the education system would, he believed, promote not just musical revival but a general national revival as well. In counterpoint to Sharp's folk-song construct, the hiterto marginalised contribution of musical antiquarian Frank Kidson is reassessed. From an ever-diminishing position of authority, Kidson continued to dismiss Sharp's new orthodoxy by insisting that most of what passed for ‘folk’ was nothing more than the remnants of old popular song. The article concludes by seeking to explain why Sharp's construct endured.
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