Friday, December 28, 2018

The “Coventry Carol”

One of the most haunting of all Christmas-season carols is the “Coventry Carol,” whose text, melody, and harmony come from a medieval play, the sixteenth-century Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors.

In 2010, I wrote an arrangement of this carol for unaccompanied SATB choir. While retaining the basic structure, the arrangement uses counterpoint, polytonality, and sustained notes to lend the work a heightened intensity. I also added an ostinato line from the Preface of the Mass for the Dead—vita mutatur, non tollitur, “life is changed, not destroyed”—and a final invocation of the Holy Innocents, orate pro nobis, Amen.

The performance in the video, sung by the Ecclesia Choir, took place at St. John Cantius in Chicago on June 25, 2017, under the direction of Deacon Timothy Woods.

The Coventry Carol

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Vita mutatur, non tollitur.

1. O sisters too,
How may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling
For whom we do sing
By, bye, lully, lullay?

2. Herod, the king,
In his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might,
in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

3.That woe is me,
Poor child, for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Orate pro nobis. Amen.

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