Recently discovered 18th-century hymn, earliest known carol by female composer

Posted on: December 17, 2020

“Another jigsaw piece in the history of female composers has been slotted into place with the discovery of the earliest known Church of England anthem composed by a woman,” writes Erica Jeal in Tuesday’s (12/15) Guardian (U.K.). “At their carol concert on 21 December the girl choristers of Ely Cathedral will sing Jane Savage’s Hymn for Christmas Day, a setting composed around 1785 of the familiar words: ‘While shepherds watched their flocks by night.’ … The anthem was uncovered this summer by Rachel Webber, a postgraduate student at the University of York [who discovered] an attribution to a ‘Miss Savage’ in the British Library’s digitized version of an obscure 18th-century hymn collection…. Savage (1752-1824), the daughter of one of Handel’s friends and colleagues, was a reasonably prolific composer of drawing-room pieces for keyboard and voice, until her marriage rendered such pursuits untenable…. ‘At the time, cathedral music was an exclusively male preserve,’ … Webber says. ‘But women could and did write music for the charity hospitals, to be performed by women and girls.’ Savage’s anthem has now been published, in Webber’s new edition, by the Church Music Society.… The 21 December carol concert will be streamed live at 7pm on Ely Cathedral’s YouTube channel.”