Founder of the folk song revival
For a musicologist who led the folk song revival of the early 1900s, Cecil J Sharp was initially reluctant about the notion of saving old carols. But once he was persuaded that “village carols” were worth their weight in musical gold, he conceded: “In them [carols] we have a unique possession, a national heritage of inestimable worth.”
When Sharp started listening to folk singers and annotating their tunes in the early 1900s, much of the nation’s music related to Germany and its folk music. He believed that, as our dictionaries indicate the origins of words, the origins of our music should also be transparent. He was also convinced that British composers had a lot to learn from our indigenous folk music.
Sharp founded the English Folk Dance Society, supported his family of five through his collecting and publishing work, and was careful not to upset the Edwardian public: he did not publish the often bawdy, sometimes erotic words of many songs. As a result, Sharp’s work became the subject of considerable academic squabbling over both its veracity and sources.
He died in 1924 having listened to more than 350 singers and collecting almost 5,000 old tunes, including some 1,500 from the Appalachian Mountains in North America.