It is time, as it so often is this time of year, to "prepare ourselves to hear again" the annual Preview of the service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge.
This service is, surely, the most famous regular church service in the world. It is heard live on the radio by a global audience numbering some 30 million. And nowadays it's heard by even more people in the days afterward through streaming audio from the BBC.
Keep in mind that we also made some very vague predictions for this service. First, let's check in on how we did.
-1 Point. Score: 0
This is not one that we are familiar with. A bit of digging shows that it's a little "notey", but not in an altogether unpleasant way. It's certainly more reserved than that blasted Wilberg thing, about which we have very mixed feelings.
-1 Point. Score: -1
There is no "Adam lay" carol at this year's service; a version by Brown was sung last year. Instead we get that happy "apple" alternative by Elizabeth Poston (1905-1987), last sung in 2009, and the premiere of the Thea Musgrave (b. 1928) carol commissioned for this year's service. If we had read that text a little more closely we could have predicted this too. Bad form on our part.
-1 Point. Score: -2
-1 Point. Score: -3
+2 Points. Score: -1
However, a slight correction: this carol was not commissioned for this service. We got that wrong.
I wrote The Lamb in 1982 while being driven by my mother from South Devon to London. It came to me fully grown so to speak, so all I had to do was to write it down. It was inspired by Blake and by my three-year-old nephew, Simon.
+2 Points. Score: 1
The first is "Love came down at Christmas", a Cleobury setting of the Rosetti poem and existing tune by R. O. Morris. (First page of this carol [PDF]). This is in fact a new new carol, having been written for last year's "Carols from King's", a made-for-TV version of the Christmas Eve service with largely different music.
The second Cleobury carol arrangement is "Angelus ad virginem", which is heard immediately after the Fifth Lesson. It occupies the same position in the service held in 2006 by the original medieval version of this carol. And, hey! It's after the Fifth Lesson, just like we predicted!
+1 Point. Score: 2
+1 Point. Score: 3
Look, there's a Britten carol after the "The Lamb". It's "Here we bring new water", a simple ditty from his collection Friday Afternoons for trebles alone.
+1 Point. Score: 4
Oh, wait, there's another one! After the very next Lesson we get his famous A Hymn to the Virgin. I wonder if they'll utilize a different space in the chapel for the second choir?
+2 Points. Score: 6
Holy cow! There's a third Britten carol! It's "A boy was born", the opening section of the larger a capella work A Boy was Born, one of the earliest pieces to really put Britten on the map.
+3 Points. Score: 9, as in Nine Lessons and Carols.
See? Who needs Nate Silver when you have our totally intuitive ability to predict this stuff and a completely unbiased and scientific scoring system? It was a little rough there for a while, but in the end we come up smelling like a rose. Smell a rose, indeed!
There are quite a few things our predictions didn't touch on.
There's the "Joy the the world" after the Second Lesson which the choir will sing straight out of The New Oxford Book of Carols.
The wonderful Judith Weir (b. 1954) carol Illuminare, Jerusalem which is a true favorite of ours. Commissioned for this service in 1985, it's a piece that uses the choir very well and exploits the effect of the organ in that acoustic in the most remarkable way.
The David Willcocks (b. 1919) arrangement of "Away in a manger" is a literal repeat from last year's service. Same carol in the same spot. While Willcocks is, we think, always represented by at least a descant, the choir do not always sing one of his carols. This year, however, will be the third consecutive year that the choir have sung a Willcocks carol arrangement.
The hauntingly beautiful Bob Chilcott (b. 1955) "The Shepherd's Carol" is becoming more regular at this service. It has been sung three times since it's composition. It was originally written for the "Carols from King's" broadcast in 2000. It was sung at this service the very next year, and again in 2011.
Richard Rodney Bennet's (1936-2012) Susani is sung after the Eighth Lesson. This is fitting honor for a composer who died on Christmas Eve last year.
Finally, the sails are raised for Simon Preston's (b. 1938) "I saw three ships" in the year of the composer's 75th birthday.
Labels: Bennett, Britten, Christmas, Cleobury, King's College (Cambridge), liturgy, Musgrave, Poston, Tavener, Williamson
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