Christmas carols: Coventry carol
By Giovanni's request, this week's selection is the Coventry Carol.
The Coventry Carol was part of a mystery play called "The Pageant of the Shearman and Tailors." The play was performed in Coventry every year around Easter, hence, the "Coventry" Carol.
This play was first mentioned in 1392 and it was trendy enough to attract royal visitors in the 15th century, but the earliest manuscript that includes text and music for the play dates to the end of the 16th century. We're very lucky to have this song, because that manuscript was actually destroyed in a library fire in 1879, and the music had to be reconstructed from what The New Oxford Book of Carols calls a "horrendously inaccurate piece of engraving" of the play which was published in 1825, as well as a previous edition published in 1879.
Unlike many Christmas carols, this is not at all a happy piece. It's in a minor key and rightly so, because the text of the piece is about mothers / women trying to keep their children quiet so that Herod's soldiers won't find them and kill them.
One interesting this about this song is that I didn't really like any of the versions I heard with male singers. Part of that may be the lyrics (the line "O sisters," implies that it's being sung by all women), or maybe it's just that the song works better with female voices, regardless. Anyway, here's a female a capella version to start you out:
Salvation Army, Ontario Central Divisional Brass Ensemble, 2006:
I always like to include an instrumental version of whatever carol I'm featuring, and I thought this one was nice, despite the sound quality.
Unknown performers, lute and voice, 2008?:
A very traditional rendition with lute and female voice.
Honorable Mention: D. Holeton on Mountain Dulcimer, complete with tabs! (This is to answer all of the critics who complain that I don't post nearly enough mountain dulcimer tabs.)
Also, this Saxophone Quartet. (I could take or leave the actual quartet sections, but I found the beginning and ending solos unexpectedly haunting. Who knew that the Coventry Carol + saxophone would work?)