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Overview

Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) is widely regarded as responsible for the revival of interest in the English and American folk song tradition during the early 1900s. His single-minded determination in collecting folk songs and dances was an integral part of preserving a disappearing culture.

Folk songs can be traced to seventeenth-century broadside collections, but the recording of this oral tradition had long since lapsed when Sharp began amassing material in 1903.

His enthusiasm for collecting folk songs and dances was to develop into a crusade as he realized the importance of traditional music and dance, and strove to make it popular once again.

His lecture tours, interviews, and publication of works such as Folk-Songs from Somerset (1904), English Folk-Songs for Schools (1906), and English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions (1907) contributed to the revival--and what many regarded as the renaissance--of English art music. Sharp's work was consolidated with the founding of the English Folk-Dance Society in 1911, whose main objective was promoting the study of and collecting dance music.

Between 1916 and 1918, Sharp spent 46 weeks visiting remote communities in the Southern Appalachians. The 1,682 tunes he collected there have had far-reaching consequences for the study of the Anglo-American folk tradition. Most of the tunes were largely English in origin, but the "square dances" were unique to the Appalachian area.

The collection, filmed from notebooks at Clare College, Cambridge, contains musical scores and lyrics and is divided into the following parts:

  • Folk Words (19 volumes)
  • Folk Tunes (23 volumes)
  • Folk Dance Notes (4 volumes)
  • Index (4 volumes)

The manuscript collection contains 4,977 tunes, of which only 1,118 have been published. A substantial proportion of the previously published material differs from the notebook collection as a result of careful editing. Approximately one third of the material is from the Appalachian Mountain region.

The Cecil Sharp Autograph Notebook Collection will provide a primary resource for students in musicology, dance, ethnomusicology, and folklore.

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