Easter 2024

15 December 2008
Nine Lessons and Carols - a Festival of, 2008 (preview)

Before we preview the 90th service in its entirety, let's check in with yesterday's predictions:

The service will begin with "Once in Royal David's City"

True, it does.

The Peter Warlock setting of "Adam lay ybounden" will be the second carol after the First Lesson

We were close. It's the Ord setting instead

Pearsall's "In dulci jubilo" will follow the Second Lesson

We were close again. It's the Praetorius version.

After the third lesson will be sung the hymn "Unto us is born a Son"


There's a good bet that Howells's "A spotless Rose" will make an appearance after the Fourth Lesson

Yes, that bet is a winner.

The commissioned carol, by Dominic Muldowney, will likely follow the Fifth Lesson


After the the Seventh Lesson, the hymn will likely be "God rest ye merry, gentlemen"

True, it is "God rest ye merry, gentlemen".

Now, a preview of the service as a whole.

The carol after the Bidding Prayer is "If ye would hear the angels sing" by Peter Tranchell. It seems that this carol was just made available by the Church Music Society this year, as it bears a copyright date of 2008. You can view the first page of this carol [PDF - 74 KB] from Oxford University Press.

After the First Lesson appears "Remember, O thou man" by Thomas Ravenscroft. This has become popular as of late, being in three of the last four services. From here we are thrown a curve with the Boris Ord setting of "Adam lay ybounden". We predicted yesterday that this would be Peter Warlock's composition due to a seven year alternation between the two pieces. This slot of the service is the only one to remain completely unchanged from last year.

Following the Second Lesson are Philip Ledger's "Angels from the realms of glory", last sung in 2006, and Praetorius's "In dulci jubilo", last sung a decade ago.

After the dramatic prophecy of the Third Lesson are the medieval carol "Nowell sing we now all and some", last sung in 2000, and the hymn "Unto us is born a Son", last sung in 2005. This hymn selection upholds our theory that Stephen Cleobury has decided to rotate this hymn with "It came upon a midnight clear", last sung 2006, and "O little town of Bethlehem", sung last year. If this theory proves correct, 2008 marks the beginning of the fourth cycle, and the hymn will be next sung in 2011.

Following the Fourth Lesson will be sung "The Lamb" by John Tavener, last heard in 2001, and Herbert Howells's "A spotless Rose", last enjoyed in 2005.

After the Fifth Lesson are the Marian carols. First, Lennox Berkeley's "I sing of a maiden". Berkeley was the first to be commissioned by the college to write a carol specifically for this service in 1983. The last of his carols to be sung was "Look up sweet Babe" which appeared after the Eighth Lesson in 2003. To the best of our knowledge, his "I sing of a maiden" has not been previously sung in this service. The 30-second preview in the iTunes store is enticing.

Next comes the commissioned carol by Dominic Muldowney: "The night when she first gave birth". Muldowney's compositional pedigree is right for this honor. He has studied composition with Jonathan Harvey, who wrote 1994's brooding "The Angels", and Harrison Birtwhistle, who wrote 2003's shimmering "The Gleam". The last commissioned carol to appear after the Fifth Lesson was Robin Holloway's "The Angel Gabriel" in 2002. No commissioned carol has not been sung as the second carol after the Fifth Lesson in at least eleven years.

With the reading of the Sixth Lesson Jesus is born, and he is urged to sleep with Ralph Vaughan Williams's "Wither's Rocking Hymn". Vaughan William's "This is the truth" appears frequently after the first lesson, but this is the first time another work of his will be sung in recent memory. The 50th anniversary of Vaughan Williams's death was commemorated by the King's College Choir throughout this calendar year. This is followed with the 1987 commission, "What sweeter music" by John Rutter, last sung as the bidding carol in 2005. Rutter's "Virgin's Cradle Hymn" was heard last year.

After Stephen Cleobury reads the Seventh Lesson, the choir will sing his arrangement of the Polish carol "Infant holy, Infant lowly". Though this arrangement has not been sung in the past eleven years (and is possibly new), Cleobury has programmed one of his settings every year since 1998. They most often follow the Fifth Lesson, and this will be the first that his arrangement will be sung in the period after his reading. "God rest ye merry, gentlemen" will be the hymn, which was last sung in 2004.

With the Eighth Lesson, the three kings from the east arrive, and the third carol to be commissioned by the college, the first by a female composer, Judith Weir's "Illuminare Jerusalem" is sung. Then, the carol introduced after last year's Bidding Prayer, Alan Bullard's "Glory to the Christ Child", brings the bulk of the service to a rousing finish.

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