The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

A Ceremony of Carols

Benjamin Britten

High on the list of carols ceremonies is A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28 by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), largely based on carols which were written in the 15th and 16th centuries. Returning to England in 1942 after a three-year self-imposed exile to North America, Britten obtained a copy of The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems when the Swedish cargo ship MS Axel Johnson stopped at Halifax, Nova Scotia. During the trip over the Atlantic infested with U-Boats Britten completed his Hymn to Saint Cecilia, a commission dedicated to his friend, Mrs. Elizabeth Mayer. During the same passage, Britten also completed an arrangement of 7 Christmas Carols, which would later be further adapted in order to fulfill a commission from Edna Phillips for the harp. Five of the original seven carols were found in this book of poetry (# 3, 5, 6, 8 and 10, below). A sixth, Balulalow (#4b), was hand-written on the flyleaf and back cover. Subsequently, he added Spring Carol (#9) and replaced the original Procession and Recession for the original arrangement of Hodie Christus natus est. The new versions were also based on this same ancient hymn.

Just before its original performance in 1943, Britten added numbers 4 and 7 (the latter a harp interlude). On December 4, 1943, the final version was performed by the Morriston Boy's Choir at Wigmore Hall in London, conducted by Britten. This same group also made the first recording. Composer Julius Harrison created an SATB arrangement which was published in 1955 by the firm of Boosey & Hawkes (which contains both English and German lyrics).

Order of Performance

1. Procession (Einzug; an adaptation of Hodie Christus natus est)

2. Wolcum Yole! (Willkumm, Jul!): Welcome Yule

3. There is no Rose (Es ist kein Ros): There Is No Rose Of Such Virtue

4a. That Yong Child (Wann bub dies Kindlein)

4b. Balulalow (Bubaideli)

5. As dew in Aprille (Wie Tau im Aprill)

6. This little Babe (Der kleine Knab)

7. Interlude (Zwischenspiel) [Omitted if performing the piano version]

8. In Freezing Winter Night (In kalter Wintersnacht)

9. Spring Carol (Frhlings-Chor)

10. Deo Gracias (Deo Gracias)

11. Recession (Abgang; also an adaptation of Hodie Christus natus est)

The links to carols on this site are not from the arrangements of either Britten or Harrison. You can learn additional details about the original composition in the introduction written by Philip Reed in 1994 and published in the SATB version published by Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers, Ltd.

Benjamin Britten composed numerous choral and operatic works and was the recipient of numerous awards and honors before his death in 1976. There are numerous websites available which chronicle his life and works.

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