Looking toward the choir stalls in King's
photo by the author
As always, the service begins with "Once in royal David’s city". This carol has opened the service at King's since 1919. Other than this carol and the final two hymns "O come, all ye faithful" and "Hark! The herald angels sing" (which are also sung every year) there are no repeats of any of the music sung in the 2008 service.
An encore of a relatively new carol appears after the Bidding Prayer: "Ding dong! merrily on high" arranged by Mack Wilberg. Peter Stevens, the senior organ scholar at King's, arranged the organ part. This carol was first performed in 2007 when it was immediately before the ninth lesson. Mack Wilberg is the director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
This is the third consecutive year that the Bidding Carol has been a recent composition. Prior to this sequence, the bidding carol had been a somewhat more established piece of the repertory.
After the first lesson is "Jesus Christ the apple tree" by Elizabeth Poston. This carol has only been performed in this location in recent memory, and was last sung in 2004.
The carol "Adam lay ybounden" often is sung after the first lesson and it has been sung as the second carol after this lesson since 1998. The setting of this carol text is most popularly the unaccompanied one by Boris Ord (Director of Music at King's 1929-1957) or the accompanied setting by Peter Warlock. Philip Ledger (Director of Music 1974-1982) who immediately preceded the current Director of Music, Stephen Cleobury, is the composer of this year's carol. Ledger's setting was last sung in 2000.
Robert Lucas Pearsall's arrangement of "In dulci jubilo" remains popular. It is sung this year immediately after the second lesson. This is is the sixth time it has been sung in the last ten years.
"One star, at last" by Peter Maxwell Davies was commissioned for the service in 1984. It has not been sung in recent years, though it was recorded on the King's College Choir's "On Christmas Night", a 2-CD compilation of these commissioned carols.
After the third lesson we encounter one of several carol treatments by David Willcocks (Director of Music 1957-1973). Having paid homage to Willcocks successor, Philip Ledger, it is particularly fitting that Cleobury include a number of pieces of music by Willcocks this year as he will celebrate his 90th birthday less than a week after the service.
After Willcocks's "Sussex Carol", Cleobury interrupts his rotation the hymns prior to the fourth lesson ("Unto us is born a Son", "It came upon a midnight clear", "O little town of Bethlehem") with "God rest ye merry, gentlemen".
After the fourth lesson follows that famous medieval trio "There is no rose". A medieval carol was also sung last year, but prior to that one had not been heard since 2000.
Jan Sandström's transcendent treatment of Praetorius's "Det är en ros utsprungen" for 12 voices (3 SATB choirs) follows. The work was first performed at this service two years ago.
After the fifth lesson is sung:
Mary’s Magnificat by Andrew Carter. This video dates from 1995, but I am only aware of the carol being sung at this service in 2004.
In 2004, the carol was preceeded with one by Cleobury. Here a different Cleobury carol "Joys Seven", perhaps my favorite of his carol treatments, follows.
The carols after the Sixth lesson, "Infant holy" and "Il est né," are both Willcocks arrangements. Stephen Cleobury's setting of "Infant holy" was sung last year.
This year's commissioned carol, "The Christ Child" by Gabriel Jackson follows the seventh lesson.
This year the composer Gabriel Jackson has used G K Chesterton's 'The Christ Child Sat On Mary's Lap' as the text for his carol. Gabriel is a leading composer of choral music who has written pieces for the BBC, the Tate Gallery and the National Centre for Early Music.
He said: 'While writing the piece I was thinking all the time about the wondrous space that is the King's Chapel, the special atmosphere of the service, the acoustic of the building, and the unique sound of the King's choir in that building. Now that it is finished I cannot wait for Christmas Eve, to be there in the Chapel at King's and to hear my piece quietly take its place in the age-old rite, as Stephen and his choir work their magic once again.'
The hymn "While shepherds watched their flocks by night" follows. Interestingly, "God rest ye merry, gentlemen" (see above) when it was sung, occupied this post.
Two classics follow the eighth lesson: "In the bleak midwinter" by Harold Darke and "Personent hodie" by Gustav Holst. Darke was Boris Ord's substitute during the war (1940-1945). "In the bleak midwinter" was last sung in 2003; "Personent hodie" was last sung in 1998.
The service ends in the traditional manner. The second organ postlude is Toccata-Gigue on the Sussex Carol by George Baker.
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