"Masters in This Hall"
, (alternate title: "Nowell, Sing We Clear"
), is a Christmas carol
A Christmas carol is a carol whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas or the winter season in general and which are traditionally sung in the period before Christmas.-History:...
with words written around 1860 by William Morris
William Morris 24 March 18343 October 1896 was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement...
to an old French dance tune. The carol is moderately popular around the world but has not entered the canon of most popular carols.
The French composer Marin Marais
Marin Marais was a French composer and viol player. He studied composition with Jean-Baptiste Lully, often conducting his operas, and with master of the bass viol Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe for 6 months. He was hired as a musician in 1676 to the royal court of Versailles...
composed the dance for his opera Alcyone
Alcyone is an opera by the French composer Marin Marais. It takes the form of a tragédie en musique in a prologue and five acts. The libretto, by Antoine Houdar de la Motte, is based on the Greek myth of Ceyx and Alcyone as recounted by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. The opera was first performed at...
of 1706, with the title Marche pour les Matelots.
The tune was subsequently included in Raoul Auger Feuillet
Raoul Auger Feuillet was a French dance notator, publisher and choreographer most well-known today for his Chorégraphie, ou l'art de décrire la danse which described Beauchamp-Feuillet notation, and his subsequent collections of ballroom and theatrical dances, which included his own...
's 1706 Recueil de contredanse along with a longways proper dance, La Matelotte, which Feuillet had himself written to go with the tune.
In 1710 John Essex
John Essex was an English dancer , choreographer and author who promoted the recording of dance steps through notation as well as performing in London theatre...
(d. 1744) published an English translation of Feuillet's work called, For the Further Improvement of Dancing, in which the dance is given as The Female Saylor.
The words were written around 1860 while William Morris was working as an apprentice in the office of the architect, Edmund Street
George Edmund Street was an English architect, born at Woodford in Essex.- Life :Street was the third son of Thomas Street, solicitor, by his second wife, Mary Anne Millington. George went to school at Mitcham in about 1830, and later to the Camberwell collegiate school, which he left in 1839...
, presumably under the persuasion of his fellow students who at that time had a taste for part-song.
The architect and musician Edmund Sedding
-Biography:Sedding, son of Richard and Peninnah Sedding of Summerstown, near Okehampton, Devon, was born on 20 June 1836: John Dando Sedding was his younger brother. He early displayed antiquarian tastes, which led to his visiting cathedrals, abbeys, and churches in England and France...
had at one point also been in the office of G E Street and he had discovered the tune at a meeting with the organist at Chartes Cathedral. It was included in Sedding's collection of Nine Antient and Goodly Carols for the Merry Tide of Christmas (1860). In 1884 the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. He invented the roundel form, wrote several novels, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica...
described this carol as "one of the co-equal three finest ... in the language." According to Swinburne the carol was also included, at his suggestion, in the publisher Arthur Bullen
Arthur Henry Bullen, often known as A. H. Bullen, was an English editor and publisher, a specialist in 16th and 17th century literature, and founder of the Shakespeare Head Press, which for its first decades was a publisher of fine editions in the tradition of the Kelmscott Press.His father George...
's A Christmas Garland; Carols and Poems from the Fifteenth Century to the Present (1885).
"Masters in This Hall" is said to have a sixteenth century feel , harking back to a simpler society, in line with Morris's own romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...
. It also has elements of Morris's socialist beliefs, with the poor bringing news of Christ's birth to the 'Masters in this Hall' and a warning to the proud.
In Morris's original version there are twelve verses but today only four or five are sung.
The carol describes a poor man, emphasised by his rural dialect, drawing his master's attention to the birth of Christ by describing how he had met shepherds travelling to Bethlehem in solemn mood where, joining them, he had seen the Christ child in his mother's arms. The chorus repeats how the birth of Christ has raised up the poor and cast down the proud.
First verse and chorus:-
- 1. Masters in this Hall,
- Hear ye news to-day
- Brought from over sea,
- And ever I you pray:
- Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!
- Nowell, sing we clearl
- Holpen are all folk on earth,
- Born is God's son so dear:
- Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!
- Nowell, sing we loudl
- God to-day hath poor folk raised
- And cast a-down the proud.