Ceremony of Carols - Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976)


Benjamin Britten’s hugely popular Ceremony of Carols was inspired by his discovery of "The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems" and was composed in part while returning by ship to Britain from the United States.  It is an unusual setting for treble voices and harp; Britten had intended to write a harp concerto and so had been studying the instrument.  The “carols” are largely the product of 15th and 16th century writers, most of whom are anonymous.  They retain their unique flavour by Britten's extensive use of old English language.   

The work opens and ends with the choir processing to plainsong, and the sections in-between deal with the traditional stories surrounding the birth of Christ.  The piece in its entirety shows Britten’s mastery of choral music, with each movement in contrast with the next, ranging from the plangent solos of That Yonge Childe and In Freezing Winter Night through the smooth polyphony of Balulalow and There is no Rose to the angularity and dynamism of I Sing and This Little Babe.

 Samir Savant