>> Sunday, November 28, 2010
I became familiar with many Christmas carols because my parents were extremely fond of music and we had records of almost every kind--from classical to some big band jazz--and among my parents' favorites were recordings made by the Robert Shaw Chorale. They were a mainstay in our home and many of our favorite Christmas albums were by them.
The Holly and the Ivy is an English traditional Christmas carol. "Holly and ivy have been the mainstay of Christmas decoration for church use since at least the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when they are mentioned regularly in churchwardens’ accounts". Holly and ivy also figure in the lyrics of the "Sans Day Carol". The music and most of the text was first published by Cecil Sharp.
The text was first published in a broadside dated 1710, and may have originated somewhere in the Cotswolds. In 1861, it appeared in a collection of carols edited by one Joshua Sylvester, and the Victorians subsequently took it to heart.
The New Oxford Book of Carols points out that the refrain is ‘incoherent and oddly irrelevant [standing] in the same aesthetic relationship to the verse as does Tower Bridge to the Tower of London, and is just the kind of Olde Englishe trumpery that a canny broadside publisher of 1710 might have strung together from stock to eke out his product.’
The tune, ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, was collected by Cecil Sharp who heard it sung by Mrs Mary Clayton of Chipping Campden in 1909.
Other versions, by Allen Percival and Martin Shaw, have failed to supplant it. Several other early carols pursue the holly and the ivy theme. One is found in a Tudor collection, set to a tune attributed to Henry VIII. --The Story Behind "The Holly and the Ivy"