It is only speculation, but I venture the opinion that the immense popularity of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College Chapel, Cambridge, (when compared with the popularity of sung evensong anywhere) arose from the fact that the invention of this service aroused a response through its paradoxical quality. Here was a cathedral foundation singing not Stanford in C or Wood in the Phrygian mode but the earthy, secular, cheerful, friendly songs of Christmas. The collision of this earthiness and familiarity with cathedral remoteness and beauty caused a minor explosion in the affections of the British public. It is interesting to observe how, with the gradual rising of the standard of that choir to something as near perfection in its own line as mortals dare approach, there has been, over the fifty years of its acceptance as a national institution, a gradual de-sacralizing of the music. One by one the vestiges of cathedral romanticism have been pared away—Walford Davies's "O little town," for example, gave place to a Bach recitative and chorale, and this in turn gave place to the austere medieval hymn "Corde natus." Carols of the F-sharp major Pettman school have gradually made way for the fresh simplicity of Berkeley's "I sing of a maiden," the good-humored asperities of Mathias' "Nowell," and the gaunt medieval coolness of "There is no rose." King's College Chapel will remain romantic as long as it stands; even Thomas Tallis will sound romantic there as long as people think of the place with the affection they show at present.
Routley, Erik. Church Music and the Christian Faith. Agape, 1978, pp. 47-48.
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