Old English Folk Music: A History

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Old English folk music has a long and rich history. From the early ballads and carols to more modern tunes, this type of music has always had a place in the hearts of the English people. In this blog post, we take a look at the history of Old English folk music, from its early beginnings to the present day.

Origins of Old English Folk Music

The roots of Old English folk music can be found in the music of the Anglo-Saxons. This music was brought to England by the invading Germanic tribes in the fifth century AD. The Anglo-Saxons were a people who had their own music, dance, and poetry. This music was passed down through the generations and eventually developed into what we now know as Old English folk music.

Anglo-Saxon England

Old English folk music has its roots in the music of Anglo-Saxon England. This music was predominantly religious in nature, and much of it was written in Latin. However, there were also a number of folk songs written in Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons. These songs were often about everyday life, and they provided a glimpse into the culture of the Anglo-Saxons.

One of the most famous examples of Old English folk music is the song “Caedmon’s Hymn.” This hymn was written by Caedmon, a 7th-century monk, and it is one of the oldest surviving examples of Old English poetry. The poem is about the creation of the world, and it includes a number of references to Anglo-Saxon mythology.

Other popular examples of Old English folk music include “The Battle of Maldon” and “The Seafarer.” “The Battle of Maldon” is a poem that recounts the heroic deeds of Byrhtnoth and his men during a battle against Viking invaders in 991 AD. “The Seafarer” is an anonymous poem that describes the hardships and dangers faced by a sailor at sea.

Old English folk music was largely forgotten during the Middle Ages, but it experienced a revival in the 19th century. This revival was led by scholars such as Francis James Child, who collected and published a number of traditional folk songs from England. Today, old English folk songs are still sung by traditional Folk groups in England, and they continue to be an important part of English culture.

The Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest in 1066 brought a huge change to England, not just in terms of politics and language, but also in terms of culture. One of the most important changes was the introduction of Normans into English society. The Normans were originally from Northern France, and they brought with them many new ideas and traditions, including a new form of music. This music became known as Old English folk music.

Old English folk music was a Fusion of Anglo-Saxon and Norman traditions, and it quickly became popular among the people of England. This type of music was usually played on instruments such as the lute, flute, or harp, and it was often used for dancing. In addition to being used for entertainment, Old English folk music was also used for religious purposes. This type of music continued to be popular in England for centuries, and it eventually spread to other parts of Europe as well.

The Development of Old English Folk Music

Folk music has been around since the beginning of time. It was originally passed down orally from generation to generation. Each culture has their own unique style of folk music. Old English folk music is no different. In this article, we will take a look at the history of old English folk music and how it has developed over the years.

The Medieval Period

The medieval period in England was one of great change. With the Norman Conquest of 1066 came a new ruling class, the French-speaking Normans. For centuries, the two cultures battled for supremacy, each making its mark on the other. The music of this period reflects both the Anglo-Saxon and Norman influences.

One of the most important changes to occur during this time was the introduction of Christianity. This had a profound effect on music, as it did on all aspects of life. The Church became the primary patron of music, and composers began to write sacred works for use in worship. At first, this music was in Latin, the language of the Church, but over time vernacular works began to appear, written in English or French. These new pieces were often quite simple, designed to be accessible to as many people as possible.

Another significant development during this period was the rise of chivalry. This code of conduct, which placed an emphasis on honor and knightly values such as bravery and courteousness, became increasingly important in society. As a result, songs about chivalry and courtly love became popular. These works were often written in a highly stylized manner and are sometimes difficult for modern audiences to understand.

Perhaps the most important change to take place during the medieval period was the blossoming of a unique English cultural identity. This can be seen in all aspects of life from architecture to art to music. For the first time, composers began writing specifically for an English audience and featuring English subjects. This new national consciousness is perhaps best expressed in the works of Chaucer, one of England’s most famous medieval poets. His Canterbury Tales , written in Middle English, is a collection of stories that captures the diverse culture and colloquial speech of late medieval England

The Renaissance

The Renaissance was a time of great creativity in many fields, including music. English composers began to develop their own national style of music, based on the folk tunes and dances of the country. This new style came to be known as “musicke of the English,” or simply “English music.”

One of the most important composers of English music was John Taverner (c. 1490-1545). Taverner was a widely respected composer and conductor, who wrote both sacred and secular music. His best-known work is probably his mass setting, Missa Gloria tibi trinitas, which is still performed today.

During the Renaissance, England also became home to many talented foreign musicians. The most famous of these was the Italian composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), who spent several years working at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.Palestrina’s music was highly respected by other composers, and he exerted a strong influence on the development of English church music.

The Renaissance was also a time when many new instruments were invented or introduced into England. These included the viola da gamba (a type of bowed string instrument), the lute (a plucked string instrument), and the crumhorn (a type of woodwind instrument). These instruments added greatly to the range and versatility of English musical ensembles, and helped to make English music more expressive and exciting.

The Modern Period

By the early twentieth century, the folk music of England was well established as part of the country’s musical culture. However, it was not until the 1950s that a significant revival of interest in traditional music began. The Second World War had a profound effect on British society, and after the war many people felt a need to return to simpler, more traditional ways of life. This nostalgia for a lost way of life led to a renewed interest in traditional music and song.

The skiffle craze of the late 1950s was one manifestation of this new interest in folk music. Skiffle was a type of music that combined elements of jazz, blues, and country music, and was often played on home-made instruments such as washboards and tea chests. The most famous skiffle group was The Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group, who had several hits in the British charts in the late 1950s.

The skiffle craze was followed by a more serious interest in folk music, which was spearheaded by The Beatles in the early 1960s. The Beatles were greatly influenced by American folk rock groups such as The Byrds, and their album “Rubber Soul” (1965) featured several folk-influenced songs such as “Norwegian Wood” and “Nowhere Man”. The band also recorded an album of traditional folk songs called “With The Beatles”, which included versions of “She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain” and “I Will”.

The Beatles were not the only pop group to be influenced by folk music in the 1960s; many other bands, including The Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, and Crosby Stills & Nash also incorporated elements of folk into their music. In 1968, Bob Dylan released his landmark album “John Wesley Harding”, which featured a number of traditional folk songs along with original compositions in a similar style. Dylan’s use of traditional folk melodies and lyrics helped to create a new genre known as ‘folk rock’.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a renewed interest in English traditional music, led by musicians such as Nic Jones, Martin Carthy, Ashley Hutchings, Richard Thompson, and June Tabor. These musicians helped to keep alive many old English Folk songs that might otherwise have been forgotten. In recent years there has been something of a revival of interest in English Folk Music; this has been helped by television programs such as “Riverdance” and “Strictly Come Dancing”, which have featured traditional Folk tunes prominently.

The Influence of Old English Folk Music

Old English folk music has been a significant influence on the music of England since the Middle Ages. It is thought to have originated in the British Isles and was later brought to America by English and Scottish immigrants. Folk music was traditionally passed down from generation to generation by oral tradition.

On other genres of music

Old English folk music had a significant influence on the development of other genres of music. In particular, it was a major source of inspiration for the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Vaughan Williams was deeply interested in the music of the English countryside, and he frequently drew on folk tunes in his own compositions. He also collected folk songs from around England, and his work helped to preserve many traditional tunes that might otherwise have been lost.

Old English folk music has been a strong influence on popular culture for centuries. From early ballads to modern day pop songs, the music of the British Isles has had a profound impact on the development of both popular and classical music.

Many of the most famous pieces of English literature, such as Shakespeare’s plays, are based on folk tales that were first set to music. In fact, some of the earliest known examples of English folk music date back to the 12th century. These early songs were often used as historical records, telling stories about real events and people.

As time went on, English folk music began to evolve and change. By the 16th century, new musical styles were being introduced from other parts of Europe. These new styles blended with existing British folk traditions to create a uniquely English sound.

During the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, folk music played an important role in the lives of workers. With long hours and difficult working conditions, workers often turned to music as a way to escape their everyday reality. Folk songs provided them with a way to express their feelings and tell their stories.

Today, old English folk songs are still being performed and enjoyed by people all over the world. Thanks to modern technology, these beautiful pieces of musical history can now be heard by anyone with an internet connection.

The Future of Old English Folk Music

Folk music has been around for centuries, and it has undergone many changes throughout its history. Today, there is a growing interest in old English folk music, and many people are wondering what the future of this genre holds. In this article, we will take a look at the history of old English folk music and explore the possibilities for its future.

The Revival Movement

The Revival Movement was a countercultural phenomenon that began in the late 1960s and gathered momentum throughout the 1970s. It spread across the globe, reaching its zenith in the early 1980s. The Revival Movement was characterized by a rejection of mainstream values and a return to traditional ways of life. It was also marked by a renewed interest in old-time music and dance.

In England, the Revival Movement took root in the folk clubs and music festivals that had sprung up in the wake of the skiffle craze of the 1950s. The most famous of these events was the Cambridge Folk Festival, which began in 1965. The festival attracted young people from all over Britain, many of whom had never before heard traditional music played live.

The Revival Movement also gave rise to a new generation of folk musicians, including such luminaries as Ashley Hutchings, Richard Thompson, Martin Carthy, and Sandy Denny. These musicians took inspiration from older performers such as A. L. Lloyd and Bert Jansch, but they also infused their music with a fresh energy and vitality that attracted younger listeners.

The Revival Movement eventually waned in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but its legacy continues to be felt in the work of contemporary folk musicians such as Patti Smith, Billy Bragg, and Eliza Carthy.

The Digital Age

The digital age has provided opportunities for the preservation and dissemination of old English folk music that were unthinkable in the past. Websites, online streaming services, and social media have made it possible for people to access this music from anywhere in the world. This has led to a resurgence of interest in old English folk music, and there are now more people than ever before who are familiar with this type of music.

The future of old English folk music is likely to be shaped by the continued growth of digital technology. More and more people are likely to have access to this type of music, and it is likely to become more mainstream as a result. This could lead to more opportunities for performers and composers of old English folk music, and it could also mean that the music will become more standardized.

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