35 Contemporary Carols from King’s College Chapel: “A Festival of Lessons & Carols”

2017 Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols Pgm 10:00 am • Sunday, December 24th 2017 (WAMC-FM)
3:00 pm • Monday, December 25th 2017 (WMHT-FM)

Each holiday brings a myriad of traditions. For many, December 24th and Christmas day is marked with a listening to the radio broadcast of the Christmas Eve service from King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England. The service and A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first broadcast in 1928. With the exception of 1930, it has been broadcast annually, even during World War II, when the ancient glass (and also all heat) had been removed from the Chapel.

Sometime in the early 1930s the BBC began broadcasting the service on the World Service, and it is now broadcast to millions of people around the world. In the United States the Christmas Eve service is broadcast by roughly 300 radio stations by way of American Public Media and Pipedreams host Michael Barone. Here in the Greater Capital Region, we listen courtesy of the airwaves of WAMC and WMHT-FM.

First held on Christmas Eve 1918, A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was introduced to bring a more imaginative approach to worship. Since 1919, the service of carols and readings from Genesis, the prophetic books, and the Gospels has always begun with the hymn “Once in Royal David’s City.” While the backbone of the service—the lessons and prayers—has remained virtually unchanged, the choice of carols has varied. Beginning with Stephen Cleobury’s tenure as Director of Music at King’s College Chapel (1982), there is now a long-standing tradition of commissioning a new carol each year for inclusion in A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. This new carol gets unveiled to million of listeners via the radio broadcast and, in today’s digital age, Internet streaming.

This year’s carol—the 35th carol commissioned by King’s for the Festival—is by Welsh composer Huw Watkins, who studied at King’s as an undergraduate and is now Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music. The carol is a setting of part of the welsh Plygain carol Carol Eliseus, chosen by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

In reference to the setting, Watkins writes:

“I was particularly delighted to have been asked to write this year’s new carol, having been an undergraduate at King’s in the ‘90s. As a non-Welsh-speaking Welshman, I was also thrilled and slightly daunted when Stephen Cleobury suggested a Welsh text. My mother (a native speaker) has helped me with the sounds and stresses of the words, and I feel like setting this language has unlocked an indefinable Welshness in my music. I wanted to write something pure and somehow artless, and all the time I’ve had that glorious acoustic in my head.”

For those curious, there is a listing of all the commissioned carols that have been unveiled in King’s College’s A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols below the video. It’s quite a contribution to the contemporary choral repertoire!

The service booklet for this year’s A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols contains the carols and readings in this year’s service and can be download by clicking here.

Whether your December holiday tradition involves delighting in latkes, figgy pudding, or mazoa, I hope everyone can take some time to enjoy the music, reflect on the joys of coming together, and be respectful of each other for what we bring to the table regardless of heritage or traditions, individually and collectively.

Here’s my warm wish for a Happy Christmas to All!

King’s College Choir has performed a newly written carol at the famous Christmas Eve service A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols every Christmas since 1983. Here’s the list of the commissioned carols.

  • 2016    Michael BerkeleyThis Endernight | words: Anonymous c1400
  • 2015    Richard CaustonThe Flight | words: George Szirtes
  • 2014    Carl RüttiIn Hoc Anni Circulo | words: 12th-century Latin, trans. by Ronald Knox
  • 2013    Thea MusgraveHear the voice of the Bard | words: William Blake
  • 2012    Carl VineRing Out, Wild Bells | words: Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • 2011    Tansy DaviesChristmas hath a darkness | words: Christina Rossetti
  • 2010    Einojuhani RautavaaraChristmas Carol (Offerings they brought of gold) | words: Einojuhani Rautavaara, translated by Hanni-Mari & Christopher Latham
  • 2009    Gabriel JacksonThe Christ Child | words: GK Chesterton
  • 2008    Dominic MuldowneyMary (The Night when She First Gave Birth) | words: Bertolt Brecht, translated by Michael Hamburger
  • 2007    Brett DeanNoël (Now comes the dawn, Stardust and vaporous light) | words: Richard Watson Gilder
  • 2006    Mark-Anthony Turnage —  Misere’ Nobis (Jesu of a Maiden Thou wast Born) | words: a version of a medieval English carol
  • 2005    John TavenerAway in a Manger | words: 19th century
  • 2004    Judith BinghamGod would be born in thee (Lo, in the Silent Night a Child in God is Born) | words: Angelus Silesius
  • 2003    Harrison BirtwistleThe Gleam (Not yet shepherds the gilded kings) | words: Stephen Plaice
  • 2002    Robin HollowayThe Angel Gabriel Descended to a Virgin | words: 15th–17th century
  • 2001    John WoolrichSpring in Winter | words: C. Smart, from Hymn & c: The Nativity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
  • 2000    Jonathan Dove The Three Kings | words: The Three Kings (1916) by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • 1999    Richard Rodney BennettOn Christmas Day to My Heart | words: Clement Paman
  • 1998    Giles SwayneWinter Solstice Carol | English words: Giles Swayne, Latin words: Magnificat antiphon for Christmas Day
  • 1997    Thomas AdésThe Fayrfax Carol | words: Early Tudor, anonymous
  • 1996    Stephen PaulusPilgrim Jesus (Iesus! Christus! In the manger of my body)| words: Kevin Crossley-Holland
  • 1995    James MacMillanSeinte Marie Moder Milde | words: From a 13th-century manuscript in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge
  • 1994    Jonathan HarveyThe Angels (Should you hear them singing among stars) | words: John V. Taylor
  • 1993    Diana BurrellChristo Paremus Cantica | words: Anonymous, 15th Century
  • 1992    Nicholas MawSwetë Jesu | words: Anonymous, 13th Century
  • 1991    John CaskenA Gathering | words: Lancelot Andrewes
  • 1990    Arvo PärtБогородице Дево, радуйся (Rejoice, O Virgin Mary) | words: the Orthodox Liturgy (in Russian)
  • 1989    Alexander GoehrCarol of St. Steven | words: Adapted from W. Sandys’ Christmas Carols
  • 1988    Peter SculthorpeThe Birthday of thy King (Awake, glad heart, get up, and sing!) | words: After Henry Vaughan
  • 1987    John RutterWhat Sweeter Music Can We Bring | words: Robert Herrick
  • 1986    Richard Rodney BennettNowel, Nowel, Holly Dark | words: Walter de la Mare
  • 1985    Judith WeirIlluminare Jerusalem | words: adapted from the Bannatyne manuscript in John MacQueen; Winifred MacQueen (1972), A Choice of Scottish Verse, 1470–1570
  • 1984    Peter Maxwell DaviesOne Star, at Last (Fix on one star) | words: George Mackay Brown
  • 1983    Lennox BerkeleyIn Wintertime (When Thou wast born in wintertime) | words: Betty Askwith


source:  Wikipedia.org and King’s College news archives

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