Episode 2: The 'Sussex Mummers' Carol,' Performed by Jeffrey Biegel

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'Sussex Mummers’ Carol'
Jeffrey Biegel, piano
arranged by Percy Grainger
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Christmas traditions come and go. One that is nearly gone is that of Christmas Mumming. Mummers were groups of ordinary people, disguised in costume, who would perform a simple play, often involving a character who dies and is brought back to life – a metaphor for winter turning into spring. The play might be performed in someone’s home, concluding with a blessing on the house and the occupants, often in the form of a song or a carol, and with a request for food or money. Mummers' plays were performed a great deal in England in the 18th and 19th centuries, but the custom largely died out after World War One.

One of the carols frequently sung by Christmas mummers in Sussex, in southeast England, was written down around the turn of the 20th century by an important folksong collector named Lucy Broadwood. From there, the melody came into Percy Grainger’s hands, and he made a couple of settings of it, including this very beautiful one for piano solo, full of rich harmonies and some challenges for the pianist – tricky reaches and a melody that sometimes lies within those big chords. Here is the "Sussex Mummers’ Carol," played by Jeffrey Biegel.

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  • This recording is courtesy of Steinway & Sons