The word carol is thought to originate from the French word "carole" meaning "a song to accompany dancing" which were popular in the middle ages. The earliest carol, as a religious song for a particular season, dates back to the 13th century and the form developed over the following two hundred years. One of the earliest to survive in English is "The Boar's Head Carol", which describes the ancient tradition of sacrificing a boar and presenting its head at a feast, and which will be performed at the St Edmund's Carol Service on December 19th. Carols suffered a decline in popularity after the Reformation but survived in rural communities until the revival of interest in carols in the 19th century with such composers as Felix Mendelssohn ("Hark the Herald Angels Sing") and Arthur Sullivan ("It Came Upon a Midnight Clear").
For me, as I suspect for many people around the world, Christmas really begins with the service of Nine Lessons and Carols from the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge (above). This service dates from Christmas Eve 1918, although the format had been used in Truro Cathedral for the previous forty years. The service has been broadcast annually for over seventy years, even during the Second World War when the glass had been removed from the Chapel and the name of King's could not be broadcast for security reasons.
Earlier this year, the organ world was shocked to learn of the death of David Sanger. He was one of the world's most accomplished concert performers and a renowned teacher. I studied with David at Cambridge and he prepared me for my successful Fellowship examination at the Royal College of Organists. In March I shall be participating in a service celebrating his life which is being held at Great St Mary's in Cambridge. As a tribute, I shall be performing his "Christmas Rhapsody"- which contains references to no less than twenty carols - before Midnight Mass at St Edmund's.
AUDIO AND VIDEO CLIPS FROM MY 2009 MAGAZINE ARTICLE