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Stories behind Oxford’s top 10 carols and Christmas pieces for 2018

The OUP hire library is a hive of activity running up to Christmas. Months in advance, the hire librarians receive requests for perusal scores of longer Christmas works. From September, hundreds of orders for carols flood in – sometimes up to 15 carols in one order!

Singing carols at Christmas is a tradition loved by many and every year there are some recurring favourites. This year is no exception with O Come, all ye Faithful, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, and Twelve Days of Christmas retaining the top three spots from last year. Some newer arrangements and carols have appeared in this year’s list, including Jingle Bells arranged by David Willcocks, All Bells in Paradise by John Rutter and On Christmas Night by Bob Chilcott.

Below are our top hired carols and Christmas pieces of 2018 and a few facts you may not know.

1. “O Come, all ye Faithful”

Arranged by David Willcocks, from Carols for Choirs 1 and 100 Carols for Choirs

O Come, all ye Faithful was originally written in Latin and appeared first in John Francis Wade’s 1751 collection, Cantus Diversi pro Dominicis et Festis per Annum.

2. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

Composed by Mendelssohn, arr. David Willcocks, from Carols for Choirs 1 and 100 Carols for Choirs

Written by Charles Wesley, this carol was first published as “Hark, how all the welkin rings/Glory to the King of Kings.”

3. “Twelve Days of Christmas”

Arranged by John Rutter, from Carols for Choirs 2 and 100 Carols for Choirs

The “five gold rings” lyric first appeared in the arrangement by Frederic Austin, and is owned by Novello. Therefore, people wishing to arrange this traditional carol must seek copyright permission if they wish to use these lyrics!

4. On Christmas Night

Composed by Bob Chilcott

This Christmas work re-tells the Christmas story through a selection of well-known carols.

5. “Once in Royal David’s City”

Arranged by Gauntlett, arr. David Willcocks, from Carols for Choirs 2 and 100 Carols for Choirs

You may have heard the solo verse of Once in Royal David’s City sung at King’s College carols on Christmas Eve. To save the soloist from nerves running up to the service, the young treble singer is only told he is to sing the first verse just before the service begins. An OUP composer, Bob Chilcott, was one of these soloists!

6. “Jingle Bells”

Arranged by Pierpont arr. David Willcocks, from 100 Carols for Choirs

The lyric “Bells on Bobtail ring” refers to the style of a horse’s tail, where a tail is cut short, or gathered and tied in a knot.

7. “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Arranged by Vaughan Williams, from Carols for Choirs 1 and 100 Carols for Choirs

Initially a success in the United States, this carol became a success in the UK after Vaughan Williams arranged the words to the traditional English folk tune, Forest Green, in 1906.

8. “All Bells in Paradise”

Composed by John Rutter

The text, written by Rutter, is inspired by the fifteenth-century Corpus Christi Carol.

9. “Sans Day Carol”

Arranged by John Rutter, from Twelve Christmas Carols Set 2, Carols for Choirs 2, and 100 Carols for Choirs

This carol, much like the Sussex Carol and the Coventry Carol, was named after a place, St Day in Cornwall. Soon after the first publication of a 3-verse Sans Day Carol, a 4-verse version was published in Cornish entitled ‘Ma gron war’n gelinen’. Its name was changed from St Day Carol to Sans Day Carol when published in the Oxford Book of Carols.

10. “Angels’ Carol”

Composed by John Rutter, from John Rutter Carols

Angels’ Carol begins with a solo harpist, which alludes to the tradition of Christian music that the harp was the angels’ instrument of choice.

Featured image credit: “Pastel Bokeh Lights Wallpaper” by Sharon McCutcheon. Public domain via Unsplash.

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