Sunday morning music

Today, let’s listen to some very old Christmas carols, dating back to medieval times and even earlier in some cases.  I’ve tried to select some recordings where they’re sung as they would have been in olden times.  The Taverner Consort comes in for heavy listening – they’re one of the best sources for medieval and Renaissance Christmas music.

Let’s start with the classic Coventry Carol, which refers to the Massacre of the Innocents after Christ’s birth.

Here’s a fun and unusual carol, from Spain:  Ríu Ríu Chíu.  It’s about the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus.  The Spanish lyrics and an English translation may be found here.

For a change of pace and voice, here’s the Wexford Carol, a fine example of a “teaching carol” designed to impart catechetical instruction as well as get the congregation to sing along. It’s performed here by Alison Krauss, with Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello.  This performance continues to amaze me.  It’s one of the best modern interpretations I’ve heard.  I could have found old-style renditions, but this one’s too beautiful not to share.

Finally, let’s have a carol that wasn’t originally a carol at all.  Branle de l’officiel was a popular dance tune in the 16th century, which later morphed into the well-known carol Ding Dong Merrily on High.  Here’s an instrumental version that brings out its foot-tapping rhythm.

May we ignore (or at least overcome) the commercialization of the season, and remember what Christmas is really all about.



  1. Thanks for bringing these performances to our attention. So much better than all the insipid songs out there.

    Coventry Carol has always been a special carol to me. One reminding people that even in the joy of the moment of His birth, there was still horror and heartache for those around him. Almost a preview of all the persecutions and tribulations in the future that continue to this day.

  2. I've always liked Riu Riu Chiu. We had the Waverly Consort's version on a CD of "Music from the Age of Discovery"

    It's definitely better music for Christmas morning than the greatest holiday hits of the 1950s and 60s.

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