XXIXth Annual
Music for the Christmas Season
Program Notes

Organ Prelude
Once in Royal David's City XIXth century English David Willcocks
O Come, O Come Emmanuel XVth century French David Willcocks
Come Thou Redeemer of the Earth IVth century Advent carol Michæl Prætorius
O Little Town of Bethlehem* XIXth century American Phillips Brooks
In the Bleak Midwinter XIXth century English Gustave Holst
Sir Christèmas XVIth century English William Matthias
O Come All Ye Faithful*
A Boy Was Born XXth century English Benjamin Britten
Past Three a Clock traditional English John Rutter
Organ Interlude Douglas Bush
I Wonder as I Wander Applachian Folk John Rutter
With Wondering Awe*
All My Heart This Night Rejoices XVIIth century German Johann Georg Ebeling
The Three Kings XIXth century German Peter Cornelius
The First Noel*
Torches Galician-inspired John Joubert
Away in a Manger Normand melody Reginald Jacques
Silent Night* XIXth century Austrian Franz Gruber
Organ Postlude

* Carols marked with an asterisk are joined by the congregation.


The carols progress through the program from catechism to Advent to the Holy Night.

The Story of Christ's Birth

Cecil F. H. Alexander (1818-1895) captured the essence of important events in the Saviour's birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection for teaching these to children in her many poems and hymns including, here, Once in Royal David's City, All Things Bright and Beautiful, There Is a Green Hill Far Away and He Is Risen. It is the first one that begins tonight's concert in the world-renown arrangement by Sir David Willcocks.

In the service on which tonight's concert is loosely modeled, a young soprano is chosen by the choirmaster without prior arrangement and the boy sings the verse solo. Then begins the procession of the choir into the King's College chapel.

    Once in royal David's city              For He is our childhood's pattern;
    Stood a lowly cattle shed,              Day by day, like us He grew;
    Where a mother laid her baby            He was little, weak and helpless,
    In a manger for His bed:                Tears and smiles like us He knew;
    Mary was that mother mild,              And He feeleth for our sadness,
    Jesus Christ her little child.          And He shareth in our gladness.

    He came down to earth from heaven,      And our eyes at last shall see Him,
    Who is God and Lord of all,             Through His own redeeming love;
    And His shelter was a stable,           For that Child so dear and gentle
    And His cradle was a stall;             Is our Lord in heaven above,
    With the poor, and mean, and lowly,     And He leads His children on
    Lived on earth our Savior Holy.         To the place where He is gone.

    And through all His wondrous childhood  Not in that poor lowly stable,
    He would honor and obey,                With the oxen standing by,
    Love and watch the lowly Maiden,        We shall see Him; but in heaven,
    In whose gentle arms He lay:            Set at God's right hand on high;
    Christian children all must be          When like stars His children crowned
    Mild, obedient, good as He.             All in white shall wait around. 


Advent, from Latin aduentus meaning a "coming" or an "arrival", is the liturgical season of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Jesus' nativity. It begins the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day. From this day, believers count the days until Christ's birth. In most of Christendom, advent carols are sung during this time. Here the choir sings, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, a medieval plainchant about wayward Isræl's distance from the joy of the now-glorified Messiah, ...

O Come, O Come Emmanuel (Veni, veni, Emanuel)

    O come, o come, Emmanuel,                 Veni, veni, Emanuel :
    Redeem Thy captive Isræl                  Captivum solve Isræl !
    —Who into exile drear is gone             Qui gemit in exilio,
    Far from the face of God's dear Son.      Privatus Dei Filio.

    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel                Gaude, gaude, Emanuel
    Is come to thee, o Isræl.                 Nascetur pro te, Isræl !

    O come, Thou branch of Jesse and draw     Veni, o Jesse virgula
    The quarry from the lion's piercing claw, Ex hostis tuos ungula,
    From dreaded caverns of the grace,        De spectu tuos tartari
    From nether hell Thy people save.         Educ et antro barathri.

    O come, o come, Thou Dayspring bright!    Veni, veni o oriens :
    Pour on our souls Thy healing light.      Solare nos adveniens.
    Dispel the long night's lingering gloom   Noctis depelle nebulas
    And pierce the shadows of the tomb.       Dirasque noctis tenebras.

    O come, Thou Lord of David's key!         Veni, calvis Davidica :
    The royal doors swing wide and free.      Regna reclude cælica.
    Safeguard for us the heav'ward road,      Fac iter tutum superum
    And bar the way to death's abode.         Et claude vias inferum.

    O come, o come, Adonaï,                   Veni, veni, Adonanï,
    Who in Thy glorious majesty               Qui populo in Sinaï
    From that high mountain clothed with awe  Legem dedisti vertice
    Gavest Thy folk the elder law.            In maiestate gloriæ.

...and Come Thou Redeemer of the Earth, a hymn written in the IVth century of which this XVIth century setting belongs to Michæl Prætorius.

Come Thou Redeemer of the Earth (Veni Redemptor gentium)

    Come, Thou Redeemer of the earth,       From God the Father He proceeds,
    And manifest Thy virgin birth:          To God the Father back He speeds;
    Let every age adoring fall;             His course He runs to death and hell,
    Such birth befits the God of all.       Returning on God's throne to dwell.

    Begotten of no human will,              Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
    But of the Spirit, Thou art still       And darkness breathe a newer light,
    The Word of God in flesh arrayed,       Where endless faith shall shine serene,
    The promised Fruit to man displayed.    And twilight never intervene.

    The virgin womb that burden gained      All laud, eternal Son, to Thee,
    With virgin honor all unstained;        Whose advent set Thy people free,
    The banners there of virtue glow;       Whom with the Father we adore,
    God in His temple dwells below.         And Holy Ghost forever more.

The Holy Night

In the Bleak Midwinter

This night, the choir sings the Gustave Holst arrangement, but has more often sung and even recorded the one by Harold Darke, who served as conductor of the King's College Choir during World War II. Like his life-long friend, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Holst had a keen interest in English folk tunes and his setting tonight was the first to which Christina Rossetti's popular, mid-XIXth century Christmas poem was put.

    In the bleak midwinter              Angels and archangels
    Frosty wind made moan,              May have gathered there,
    Earth stood hard as iron,           Cherubim and seraphim
    Water like a stone;                 Thronged the air;
    Snow had fallen,                    But his mother only,
    Snow on snow, snow on snow,         In her maiden bliss,
    In the bleak midwinter,             Worshipped the Beloved
    Long ago.                           With a kiss.

    Our God, heaven cannot hold Him,    What can I give Him,
    Nor earth sustain;                  Poor as I am?
    Heaven and earth shall flee away    If I were a shepherd
    When He comes to reign;             I would bring a lamb,
    In the bleak midwinter              If I were a wise man
    A stable place sufficed             I would do my part,
    The Lord God Almighty,              Yet what can I give Him—
    Jesus Christ.                       Give my heart. 

    Enough for Him, whom cherubim
    Worship night and day
    A breast full of milk
    And a manger full of hay.
    Enough for Him, whom angels
    Fall down before,
    The ox and ass and camel
    Which adore.

Sir Christèmas

There have been several arrangements of this very old carol from around 1500 whose author is unknown. An original manuscript thereof in the British Museum dates to the reign of Henry VIII. It incorporates a line of French at the beginning of two verses, “May God keep you, good sirs, ...” and “Drink up! everyone in the hall.” The ladies sing “at a brayde” (or, “suddenly”).

Perhaps Dickens had the persona of Sir Christèmas in mind when he created the ghost of Christmas present.

    Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell.
    Who is there that singeth so: nowell, nowell!

    I am here, Sir Christèmas, Sir Christèmas.
    Welcome, my lord Sir Christèmas,
    Welcome to all, both more and less,
    Come near!

    Dieu vous garde, beaux sieurs, tidings I you bring :
    A maid hath borne a child full young,
    The which causeth you to sing:

    Christ is now born of a pure maid, born of a pure maid.
    In an ox-stall he is laid,
    Wherefore sing we at a brayde:

    Buvez bien, buvez bien par toute la compagnie !
    Make good cheer and be right merry,
    And sing with us now joyfully:

A Boy Was Born

Benjamin Britten wrote this piece for the BBC Singers in 1934 when in his early twenties. The text is chosen from among myriad couplets of the Latin Puer natus [est] in Bethlehem and which are evocations of the circumstances and divinity of Jesus' birth and origins.

    A Boy was born in Bethlehem;
    Rejoice for that, Jerusalem.

    He let himself a servant be
    That all mankind he might set free.

    Then praise the Word of God who came
    To dwell within a human frame.

Past Three A Clock

In years gone by, before smoke detectors, secure national borders and organized police patrols, the threat of burning in your house, of invasion or nighttime skullduggery were very real. Many villages had criers who roamed the town and called out the hour along with the state of things. Today, this would be annoying to us, but for a sleeper in medieval England, to hear from the night watchmen (also called “waits” in English, vigiles in French and Wächter in German) that all was well may have been a very welcome thing indeed. Most often the criers were street musicians who played as they strolled.

Famous town waits in history include the father of Orlando Gibbons (a highly regarded Tudor-era composer and organist). An ancestor of Johann Sebastian Bach was the Stadtpfeiffer (city piper) of Eisenach in Saxony.

    Past three a clock             Hinds o'er the pearly
    And a cold frosty morning;     Dewy lawns early
    Past three a clock:            Seek the high stranger
    Good morrow masters all!       Laid in the manger.

    Born is a baby,                Light out of starland
    Gentle as may be,              Leadeth from far land,
    Son of th'eternal              Princes to meet Him,
    Father supernal.               Worship and greet Him.

    Seraph quire singeth,          Myrrh from full coffer,
    Angel bell ringeth.            Incense they offer,
    Hark how they rime it,         Nor is the golden
    Time it and chime it.          Nugget withholden!

    Mid earth rejoices             Thus they: I pray you
    Hearing such voices            Up, sirs, nor stay you
    Ne'retofor so well             Till ye confess Him
    Carolling Nowell.              Likewise, and bless Him!

I Wonder As I Wander

Travelling in the Appalacia in 1933, folksinger and composer John Jacob Niles heard a ragged little girl sing only a line from a song she apparently didn't know, but it gave him textual and musical ideas that he extended to three stanzas of four lines of melody each.

    I wonder as I wander out under the sky
    How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die,
    For poor on'ry people like you and like I.
    I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

    When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall
    With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
    But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall
    And the promise of ages it then did recall.

    If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing:
    A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
    Or all of God's angels in heaven to sing,
    He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King.

    I wonder as I wander out under the sky
    How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die,
    For poor on'ry people like you and like I.
    I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

All My Heart This Night Rejoices

This carol was translated from German, Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen, by Catherine Winkworth. There are many more verses than the four sung this evening.

    All my heart this night rejoices,
    As I hear, far and near, sweetest angel voices.
    “Christ is born,” their choirs are singing,
    Till the air, everywhere, now their joy is ringing.

    Hark! a voice from yonder manger,
    Soft and sweet, doth entreat, “Flee from woe and danger;
    Brethren, come; from all that grieves you
    You are freed; all you need I will surely give you.”

    Come, then, let us hasten yonder.
    Here let all, great and small, kneel in awe and wonder,
    Love Him Who with love is yearning.
    Hail the star that from far bright with hope is burning.

    Thee, dear Lord, with heed I'll cherish.
    Live to Thee and with Thee, dying, shall not perish,
    But shall dwell with Thee for ever,
    Far on high, in the joy that can alter never.

The Three Kings

This quiet setting of the immensely famous How Brightly Shines the Morning Star, in both text and Prætorius' melody, one of the most traditional Christmas pieces in the German-speaking world widely arranged and used everywhere by many composers including Peter Cornelius, a composer of the XIXth century, is used here to back up a text about the three magi who seek to greet the Christ child.

    Three kings from Persian lands afar
    To Jordan follow the pointing star:           How brightly shines the morning star!
    And this the quest of the travellers three,   With grace and truth...
    Where the newborn King of the Jews may be.         ...from heav'n afar.
    Full royal gifts they bear for the King;      Our Jesse tree now bloweth.
    Gold, incense, myrrh are their offering.
    The star shines out with a steadfast ray:
    The kings to Bethlehem make their way.        Of Jacob's stem and David's line,
    And there in worship they bend the knee,      For Thee, my Bridegroom, ...
    As Mary's child in her lap they see;               ...King divine,
    Their royal gifts they show to the King;      My soul with love o'er floweth.
    Gold, incense, myrrh are their offering.
    Thou child of man, lo, to Bethlehem           Thy word,
    The kings are travelling, travel with them!   Jesu,
    The star of mercy, the star of grace,         Inly feeds us,
    Shall lead thy heart to its resting place.    Rightly leads us,
    Gold, incense, myrrh thou canst not bring;    Life bestowing.
    Offer thy heart to the infant King,           Praise, O praise such...
    Offer thy heart!                                   ...love o'er flowing.


In Roman times, wedding parties were escorted by torches in the wee hours of the morning. Hence the imagery of this Galician carol linking the birth of our Lord with His future glory and the Church as bridegroom.

This carol was composed in 1951 based on a Galician carol. It was first published in a collection of carols, out of which the choir sings tonight. Mr. Joubert reported his delight and amusement in later years when carollers would come to his door singing it—without the slightest notion that its composer lived inside.

    Torches, torches, run with torches
    All the way to Bethlehem:
    Christ is born and now lies sleeping.
    Come and sing your song to Him.

    Ah, ro-ro, ro-ro my baby
    Ah, ro-ro, my love, ro-ro
    Sleep you well, my heart's own darling
    While we sing you, our ro-ro

    Sing my friends and make you merry,
    Joy and mirth and joy again:
    Lo, He lives, the King of heaven,
    Now and evermore, Amen.

Away in a Manger

This very popular carol is set to an old Norman melody by Reginald Jacques, a principal collaborator in the popular Carols for Choirs volumes out of which the choir generally sings.