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A Ceremony of Carols - Wikipedia



Britten's Ceremony of Carols: A Masterpiece of Choral Music for Christmas




If you are looking for a beautiful and inspiring piece of music to celebrate Christmas, you might want to listen to Britten's Ceremony of Carols. This is an extended choral composition by Benjamin Britten, one of the most famous British composers of the 20th century. It is scored for three-part treble chorus, solo voices, and harp, and it uses texts from various sources in Middle English, Latin, and Early Modern English. It is a unique and original work that combines ancient and modern elements, creating a rich and varied musical expression of the Christmas spirit.




Britten Ceremony Of Carols Pdf Download



In this article, we will explore the history and background, the structure and content, and the reception and legacy of Britten's Ceremony of Carols. We will also recommend some of the best recordings and performances of this masterpiece that you can enjoy online or offline. By the end of this article, you will have a deeper appreciation and understanding of this wonderful piece of choral music for Christmas.


The History and Background of Britten's Ceremony of Carols




Britten's Ceremony of Carols was composed in 1942, during World War II. Britten was living in the United States since 1939, but he decided to return to his homeland in England in 1942. He boarded a cargo ship that sailed from New York to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he joined another ship that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The voyage was long and dangerous, as there was a constant threat of German submarines attacking the ships.


During this voyage, Britten had access to a library on board that contained various books on poetry and music. He found a book called The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems, edited by Gerald Bullett, which contained poems from different periods of English literature. He was particularly drawn to the poems from the Middle Ages that dealt with religious themes. He decided to set some of these poems to music as a way of expressing his nostalgia for his home country and his faith in God.


He also found a book on harp music by Marcel Grandjany, a French harpist who had taught him some lessons in New York. He was fascinated by the possibilities of the harp as a solo instrument and as an accompaniment for voices. He decided to use the harp as the only instrument in his new composition, creating a contrast between its delicate sound and the harsh reality of war.


He composed most of the music during his sea voyage, but he completed it after he arrived in England. He originally conceived it as a series of unrelated songs, but he later unified it into one piece with a framing processional and recessional chant based on the Gregorian antiphon "Hodie Christus natus est" (Today Christ is born). He also added a harp solo based on the same chant, along with a few other motifs from "Wolcum Yole" (Welcome Yule), another movement of the piece. He also used some techniques such as canon, imitation, and inversion to create musical coherence and variety.


The Structure and Content of Britten's Ceremony of Carols




Britten's Ceremony of Carols consists of 11 movements, each with a different title and text. The movements are as follows:



  • Procession: "Hodie Christus natus est" (Today Christ is born)



  • Wolcum Yole! (Welcome Yule!)



  • There is no Rose



  • b) Balulalow



  • As dew in Aprille



  • This little Babe



  • Interlude (harp solo)



  • In Freezing Winter Night



  • Spring Carol



  • Deo Gracias (Thanks be to God)



  • Recession: "Hodie Christus natus est" (Today Christ is born)



The texts are mostly in Middle English, which is the form of English spoken between the 12th and 15th centuries. Some of the texts are also in Latin, which was the language of the church and the scholars at that time. One of the texts, "Balulalow", is in Early Modern English, which is the form of English spoken between the 15th and 18th centuries.


The sources of the texts are various. Some of them are anonymous poems from medieval manuscripts, such as "There is no Rose", "As dew in Aprille", and "Deo Gracias". Some of them are from well-known poets, such as Robert Southwell ("This little Babe"), William Cornysh ("Spring Carol"), and James, John, and Robert Wedderburn ("Balulalow"). Some of them are from liturgical texts, such as "Hodie Christus natus est", which is a Gregorian chant for Christmas.


The texts cover different aspects of the Christmas story, such as the birth of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the shepherds, the angels, the magi, and the Herod. They also express different emotions and attitudes, such as joy, wonder, praise, gratitude, humility, and defiance.


Britten uses the harp and the voices to create various musical effects that match the meaning and mood of the texts. For example, he uses glissandos, arpeggios, and harmonics on the harp to create a shimmering and ethereal sound that suggests the heavenly realm. He uses canons, imitations, and inversions on the voices to create a complex and dynamic texture that suggests the movement and excitement of the earthly realm. He also uses contrasts between high and low registers, loud and soft dynamics, major and minor modes, and consonant and dissonant harmonies to create tension and resolution.


The Reception and Legacy of Britten's Ceremony of Carols




Britten's Ceremony of Carols was first performed on 5 December 1942 at Norwich Castle by the Fleet Street Choir conducted by T. B. Lawrence. It was well received by the audience and the critics, who praised its originality, beauty, and charm. It was also broadcast on BBC radio on Christmas Day 1942.


Since then, it has become one of the most popular and influential works for Christmas. It has been performed by many choirs around the world, both professional and amateur, both children and adults. It has also been recorded by many artists, such as The Choir of King's College Cambridge , The Sixteen , The King's Singers , The Cambridge Singers , The Choir of Westminster Abbey , The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge , The Choir of St John's College Cambridge , The Choir of New College Oxford , The Choir of Magdalen College Oxford , The Choir of Clare College Cambridge , The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral Oxford , The Choir of Merton College Oxford , The Choir of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge , The Choir of St Paul's Cathedral , The Choir of Wells Cathedral , The Choir of Winchester Cathedral , The Choir of Salisbury Cathedral , The Choir of Worcester Cathedral , The Choir of Lichfield Cathedral , The Choir of Ely Cathedral , The Choir of Lincoln Cathedral , The Choir of York Minster , The Choir of Durham Cathedral , The Choir of Canterbury Cathedral , The Choir of Gloucester Cathedral , The Choir of Exeter Cathedral , The Choir of Hereford Cathedral , The Choir of St Albans Cathedral , The Choir The Reception and Legacy of Britten's Ceremony of Carols




Britten's Ceremony of Carols was first performed on 5 December 1942 at Norwich Castle by the Fleet Street Choir conducted by T. B. Lawrence. It was well received by the audience and the critics, who praised its originality, beauty, and charm. It was also broadcast on BBC radio on Christmas Day 1942.


Since then, it has become one of the most popular and influential works for Christmas. It has been performed by many choirs around the world, both professional and amateur, both children and adults. It has also been recorded by many artists, such as The Choir of King's College Cambridge , The Sixteen , The King's Singers , The Cambridge Singers , The Choir of Westminster Abbey , The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge , The Choir of St John's College Cambridge , The Choir of New College Oxford , The Choir of Magdalen College Oxford , The Choir of Clare College Cambridge , The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral Oxford , The Choir of Merton College Oxford , The Choir of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge , The Choir of St Paul's Cathedral , The Choir of Wells Cathedral , The Choir of Winchester Cathedral , The Choir of Salisbury Cathedral , The Choir of Worcester Cathedral , The Choir of Lichfield Cathedral , The Choir of Ely Cathedral , The Choir of Lincoln Cathedral , The Choir of York Minster , The Choir of Durham Cathedral , The Choir of Canterbury Cathedral , The Choir of Gloucester Cathedral , The Choir of Exeter Cathedral , The Choir of Hereford Cathedral , The Choir of St Albans Cathedral , and The Choir of St George's Chapel Windsor .


Some of the best recordings of Britten's Ceremony of Carols are:



  • The 1990 recording by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge conducted by David Willcocks (Argo), which features a clear and pure sound from the boy trebles and a sensitive and expressive harp playing by Osian Ellis.



  • The 2019 recording by Tenebrae conducted by Nigel Short (Signum), which features a warm and rich sound from the women's voices and a virtuosic and colourful harp playing by Sally Pryce.



  • The 2004 recording by the Sixteen conducted by Harry Christophers (Coro), which features a balanced and blended sound from the mixed voices and a subtle and elegant harp playing by Sioned Williams.



  • The 1985 recording by the King's Singers (EMI), which features a smooth and refined sound from the male voices and a delicate and graceful harp playing by Judith Herbert.



  • The 1989 recording by the Cambridge Singers conducted by John Rutter (Collegium), which features a bright and lively sound from the mixed voices and a sparkling and festive harp playing by Skaila Kanga.



You can listen to some of these recordings online or download them as PDF files from various websites.


Conclusion




Britten's Ceremony of Carols is a masterpiece of choral music for Christmas that showcases Britten's genius as a composer. It combines ancient and modern elements, creating a rich and varied musical expression of the Christmas spirit. It is a work that can touch the hearts and minds of listeners of all ages and backgrounds.


If you have not heard Britten's Ceremony of Carols before, we invite you to listen to it this Christmas season. You will be amazed by its beauty, charm, and originality. You will also discover a new dimension of Britten's music that will enrich your appreciation and understanding of his other works.


FAQs




Here are some common questions about Britten's Ceremony of Carols:



  • Q: What is the meaning of "Yole" in "Wolcum Yole"?



  • A: "Yole" is an old word for "Yule", which is another name for Christmas or the winter solstice.



  • Q: What is the difference between "Balulalow" and "Lullaby"?



  • A: "Balulalow" is a Scottish word for "lullaby", which is a song to soothe a child to sleep.



  • Q: What is the significance of "Deo Gracias" in the context of the Christmas story?



  • A: "Deo Gracias" means "Thanks be to God" in Latin. It is a phrase of praise and gratitude for the birth of Jesus, who is seen as the saviour of the world.



  • Q: Why is there a Spring Carol in a work for Christmas?



  • A: The Spring Carol is a contrast to the winter theme of the other carols. It also symbolizes the hope and joy that spring from the birth of Jesus, who is called "the flower of Jesse's tree".



  • Q: How can I learn more about Britten's music and life?



  • A: You can visit the Britten-Pears Foundation website, which has a lot of information and resources about Britten and his partner Peter Pears. You can also read some books and articles about Britten, such as Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century by Paul Kildea, Britten's Century: Celebrating 100 Years of Benjamin Britten edited by Mark Bostridge, and The Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Britten edited by Mervyn Cooke.



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