Maud Karpeles

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Maud Karpeles (12 November 1885 – 1 October 1976) was a British collector of folksongs and dance teacher.

Early life[edit]

Maud Pauline Karpeles was born in London in 1885 to Jewish parents.[1] After leaving school, she studied piano for six months at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. In 1892 a women's settlement had been created in Cumberland Road, Canning Town, the purpose of which was to enable the poorest girls to take part in sport and cultural activities. Karpeles became a Fabian, joined the settlement as a social worker and began looking for "something creative for a girls' club to do".

Together with her sister Helen Karpeles (1887–1976) she went to the Stratford-upon-Avon Festival in 1909, where they first encountered folk dances and songs. This inspired Maud to create a folk dance club at the Canning Town Settlement. When Cecil Sharp gave lectures on folk dance, it was her folk dance club that demonstrated them. The English Folk Dance Society (EFDS) was founded in 1911, with Karpeles' dancers at the heart of it. Karpeles became as much interested in the songs as the dances, and joined Sharp on collecting expeditions. Sharp, a married man with children, allowed Karpeles to share his house for long periods.[citation needed]

Collaboration with Cecil Sharp[edit]

In 1914 Sharp went to the USA to a Shakespeare production to teach choreographed folk dances to the actors, and to give lectures. Later in 1914, all folk dancing lectures and classes ceased during the First World War. Sharp's first collaborator had been Mary Neal. She had formed another dance group, the Espérance Club of Morris Dancers. When Mary Neal moved in the direction of Women's Suffrage, Sharp distanced himself from her, and instead made Maud Karpeles his colleague and assistant. Sharp returned to the Appalachian Mountains in 1916, this time together with Maud Karpeles, who was then 31. They collected over 1,500 tunes (over 500 different songs and variants) in a period of 46 weeks in isolated communities often reached only by mule. Many of these songs were clearly and importantly related to songs they had encountered in England. This strengthened their conviction that folk songs were subject to a kind of Darwinian selection over generations, and diffusion across the sea. These songs and tunes were published in 1932.

At the end of the war in 1918, neither Mary Neal's Espérance Guild nor Maud's group reformed. Effectively the folk dance movement changed from being working class to being middle class.[citation needed] Sharp arranged for teachers to give classes in country dance and Morris to members of the society, using his books for guidance. Choirs were created to sing folk songs in unison, even though all the singers who had provided the songs, had normally sung solo. After about 1920, Sharp ceased to collect dances - he was then in his 60s - but Karpeles was only 45 in 1920, and continued to collect. She collected clog-Morris dances from the north-west of England, in Royton and Abram. She continued to collect English country dances in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1929 Cecil Sharp House opened, and William Kimber and Maud Karpeles laid the foundation stone.

Collecting in Newfoundland[edit]

Sharp died in 1924, but just beforehand, he had expressed a wish to search for songs in Newfoundland. His theory predicted that the emigrants from Scotland and England would have brought folk songs with them, and that they would still be found there, if anyone cared to look.[citation needed] Karpeles took up the challenge, and went there in 1929-30, spending around 14 weeks collecting songs.[2] In 1934 she published her collection "Folk Songs from Newfoundland."[3]

Cecil Sharp's executor, and caretaker of his legacy of collected songs[edit]

Maud Karpeles became Sharp's legal executor at Sharp's death in 1924, and fought legal battles on behalf of his estate, with concern for his legacy of his collections. As Georgina Boyes notes in her book The Imagined Village,[4] there is a certain irony in placing any kind of copyright on folk songs which were given freely by people.

Later life[edit]

The "English Folk Dance Society" (EFDS) merged with the "Folk-Song Society" (FSS) in 1932 to become the "English Folk Dance and Song Society" (EFDSS). By this time the FSS had ceased to collect songs, and all the profits came from teaching dances and selling song-books. EFDSS elected Karpeles as honorary secretary. She continued to edit Sharp's manuscripts and was an energetic organiser of international festivals. Karpeles organised the International Folk Dance Festival and Conference in London in 1935. In 1950, and again in 1955, she returned to the Appalachian Mountains (aged 65 and 70). This time she travelled with a heavy reel-to-reel recording machine, and recorded singers for the BBC. Some of the people she met remembered meeting Sharp the first time around. Once the folk singer Phil Tanner was discovered in Gower, Wales, Karpeles made sure that he was recorded. Karpeles was awarded the OBE in 1961, for services to folk music. She received two honorary degrees: one from Université Laval in Quebec (1961) and one from the Memorial University of Newfoundland (1970).

Cecil Sharp's "English Folk Song: Some Conclusions" was considered to be a classic on the subject and Karpeles added material to the second, third and fourth editions. She never wavered from the original idea of the essential purity of folk song, free from commercialisation or vulgarity. Today a more interactive theory is widely held. Songs from the music hall can be adopted and reused by country singers. In addition, erotic songs occupy an important place in folk music, but Sharp bowdlerised texts in accordance with the social mores of his time.

During the Second World War, Karpeles helped refugee musicians and with the Red Cross. In 1962 refugees from Tristan Da Cunha arrived in Britain. Karpeles visited them and encouraged them to sing their folk songs. In 1967 she published "Cecil Sharp: His Life and Work". In 1974 she published two substantial volumes: "Cecil Sharp's Collection of English Folk Songs Vol 1 & 2". "The Crystal Spring" (1975) is shorter version of the collection. Maud Karpeles died in 1976.


In 2000 The "English Folk Dance and Song Society" issued as set of 55 trading cards with a "flicker book" celebrating the heroes of the folk-song revival. The flicker book shows a morris dance being performed by Cecil Sharp, Maud and Helen Karpeles. This Kinora Spool can also be seen on the DVD "Here's a Health to the Barley Mow: A Century of Folk Customs and Ancient Rural Games" released by the British Film Institute and the EFDSS in 2011, and on YouTube.[5] The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in Cecil Sharp House has her unpublished papers and diaries.


Maud Karpeles

  • "The Lancashire Morris Dance, containing a description of the Royton Morris Dance, collected and edited by Maud Karpeles" (London: Novello & Company) (1930)
  • "Twelve Traditional Country Dances" (1931/1956 London: Novello and Co for the English Folk Dance Society)
  • "The Abram Morris Dance" (Journal of English Folk Dance and Song Society) (1932)
  • "Folk Songs From Newfoundland" (1934)
  • "A Report on Visits to the Tristan Da Cunha Islanders" (Journal of English Folk Dance and Song Society) (1962)
  • "Cecil Sharp: His Life and Work" (1967)
  • "Folk Songs from Newfoundland" (1971 Faber and Faber)
  • "An Introduction to English Folk Song" (1973)

Maud Karpeles and Lois Blake (illustrated by Roland A. Beard)

  • "Dances of England & Wales" (1950)

A. H. Fox Strangeways and Maud Karpeles

  • "Cecil Sharp" (1933 1st ed) (1955 2nd ed) (1967 3rd ed)

Edited by Maud Karpeles

  • "English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. Collected by Cecil J. Sharp" (2 volumes, 1932. London: Oxford University Press)
  • "Folk Songs of Europe" (1964. New York: Oak Publications)
  • "Cecil Sharp's Collection of English Folk Songs Vol 1 & 2" (1974)
  • "The Crystal Spring" (1975) (This is a selection from the 2 vols of "English Folk Songs" 1974)

Cecil Sharp

  • "English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions" (preface by Maud Karpeles in 2nd ed 1936)
  • "English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions" (edited by Maud Karpeles in 3rd ed 1954 and 4th ed 1965)
  • "Eighty English Folk Songs from the southern Appalachians collected by Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles" (1968 Faber & Faber) (Piano accompaniments by Benjamin Britten)

Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles

  • "80 Appalachian Folk Songs" (1983)

Kenneth S. Goldstein and Neil V. Rosenberg (editors)

  • "Folklore Studies in Honour of Herbert Halpert: a Festschrift" (St John's 1980)
(contains a chapter by Carole Henderson Carpenter called 'Forty Years Later: Maud Karpeles in Newfoundland')

Dr Pauline Alderman

  • "The Journal of the International Congress on Women in Music" (June 1985)
(contains an article called "Four Generations of Women in Musicology". Maud is classified as being in "The Second Generation".)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Vaughan Williams Memorial Library - Welcome to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library". Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  2. ^ "Department of Folklore". Memorial University of Newfoundland. Retrieved 2018-09-01.
  3. ^ Karpeles, Maud, "Folk Songs From Newfoundland, Faber and Faber, London 1971
  4. ^ Boyes, Georgina (2010). The Imagined Village: Culture, ideology and the English Folk Revival. London: No Masters Cooperative Limited. ISBN 978-0-9566227-0-9. pages 50-54
  5. ^ jugosling (2010-09-26), The Kinora Films, retrieved 2018-09-01

External links[edit]