The carol had its origin in the medieval dance-song. The legend of the unfortunate dancers, condemned by an angry priest to dance for a year, for their neglect of religious duties, is well known. The Christmas carol, as one example of popular religious song, has its origin too in the Middle Ages, but now often wears a distinctly contemporary dress. The present Christmas collection brings together modern arrangements of traditional carols, together with examples of the form from the heyday of domestic English carolling in the 19th century.
O little town of Bethlehem is by Walford Davies with words by the nineteenth century American Bishop Philips Brooks, while The Cherry Tree Carol has a traditional English origin, the folk-tune here arranged by Donald Hunt. In the bleak mid-winter, a setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti, has music by Gustav Holst, who arranged the traditional Sing aloud. Away in a manger is equally well known in two different versions. The setting better known in England is that by the American gospel music composer William James Kirkpatrick. The tune for the anonymous words is here arranged by Donald Hunt. Joys Seven is another traditional carol, the setting arranged by Stephen Cleobury of King's College, Cambridge.
I wonder as I wander, arranged by Donald Hunt, and Jesus, Jesus, rest your head, arranged by Arthur Warrell, are taken from Appalachia, a rich source of original folk-song material, inherited from early settlers. In dulci jubilo, a German fourteenth century macaronic carol, alternating Latin and vernacular words, is sung in a familiar nineteenth century arrangement by the antiquarian English composer Robert Lucas Pearsall. O little one sweet is familiar in J. S. Bach's harmonization of a melody by his seventeenth century compatriot Samuel Scheidt.
The Shepherds' Rocking Carol is of Czech origin, a Christmas lullaby, and Ding dong! Merrily on high, with English words by G. R. Woodward, uses a sixteenth century French dance tune. O come, all ye faithful, in its English version, is of composite authorship, with music of probable eighteenth century provenance, arranged by David Willcocks.
The Coventry Carol is taken from the fifteenth century Pageant of Shearmen and Tailors, lamenting at the same time the Massacre of the Holy Innocents and while advertising the Shearmen's own wares, scissors, knives and shears. As I outrode is an English traditional carol and Unto us is born a son, a Latin carol of the fifteenth century, appears in the well known German collection Piae Cantiones, published in 1582.
The anthology ends with Mendelssohn's Hark, the herald angels sing, adapted by W. H. Cumming, from a festival choral composition, here arranged by David Willcocks and Donald Hunt's arrangement of Silent Night, its original German words written by Joseph Mohr in 1818, with a melody of the same date by Franz Gruber. The music of Stille Nacht was written on Christmas eve, presumably for performance at Midnight Mass at the church of St. Nicholas at Oberndorf, where Gruber was organist and choirmaster. On this first occasion the organ broke down, and a guitar was used in accompaniment.
Donald Hunt was appointed Director of Music at Worcester Cathedral in 1975, after a number of years in a similar position at Leeds Parish Church, where he built his reputation as a choral and orchestral conductor, working also with the Leeds Festival chorus, Leeds Philharmonic Society and Halifax Choral Society and serving as Leeds City Organist and as a lecturer at the Leeds College of Music. In 1975 he was awarded a doctorate by Leeds University in recognition of his services to music in the city. Donald Hunt was born in Gloucester and as a boy was a chorister in the cathedral choir and later, at the age of seventeen, assistant organist, learning much from his teacher Herbert Sumsion and thus forging a direct link with the tradition of Elgar. He continues an active career as a conductor locally and internationally, with frequent broadcasts and many recordings as a conductor and recitalist and regular responsibility for the Three Choirs Festival of England's West Country.