chapter  1
‘The greatest musical curiosity extant’: ‘Sumer is icumen in’ and the canon of English music
Pages 26

The medieval song ‘Sumer is icumen in’, with its alternative Latin lyric ‘Perspice Christicola’, relates to the idea of canon in two ways. Most simply, it is a piece with parts written ‘in canon’ – a rota or round – whose main melody can be split into parts and sung in staggered succession over the pedes, which themselves alternate and overlap. But it also relates to notions of ‘canon’ more conceptually, in that – unusually, for a piece of medieval music – it has been treated as an important part of the history of Western music, a history traditionally taught using a ‘canon’ of works identified as landmarks of creativity and ingenuity.