Once in Royal David’s City


AS Laura Perrins reminded us in TCW yesterday, we are now in Advent, the church’s run-up to Christmas. With this in mind we are planning to feature a daily traditional Christmas carol.

We start with Once in Royal David’s City because it is often used at the beginning of carol services, with the first verse sung unaccompanied by a solo treble. Many will have seen and heard it performed by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge at the start of their annual Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast live on Radio 4. The soloist is one of the 16 choristers aged nine to 13, but he is not told until ten seconds before the service begins that he is the choice. The theory is that this avoids last-minute nerves, though I would have thought the result would be 16 boys having nerves for weeks instead of one. It also features at the start of the televised Carols from King’s which is recorded earlier in December, but I have not been able to discover if the same procedure is observed about the soloist. This is the 2015 Carols from King’s.

The words of Once in Royal David’s City were written in 1848 by Dublin-born Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander, who must be one of the most popular hymn and carol writers with All Things Bright and Beautiful and There is a Green Hill Far Away to her name. It was set to music the following year by the English organist and noted hymn composer Henry John Gauntlett. The tune is called Irby.

If you have a favourite traditional carol do mention it in the comments and I will do my best to include it.

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