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A Ceremony of Carols op. 28

(1942, rev. 1943) SATB and Harp or Piano

By Benjamin Britten

SATB and Harp or Piano Choral; Chorus; Harp; Piano (SATB)
(1942, rev. 1943) SATB and Harp or Piano. Composed by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). BH Large Choral. Sacred, Christmas. 72 pages. Boosey & Hawkes #M060014116. Published by Boosey & Hawkes (HL.48008895).

Item Number: HL.48008895

6.75x10.5x0.18 inches.

For boys' or female voices and harp (piano in extremis but with alterations and omissions)

Texts: Latin and English

1. Procession (using a variant of the Magnificatantiphon for the second Vespersof the Nativity of Our Lord)

2. Wolcum Yole! (anon.)

3. There is no rose (anon.)

4a. That yongë child (anon.)

4b. Balulalow (James, John and Robert Wedderburn)

5. As dew in Aprille (anon.)

6. This little babe (Robert Southwell)

7. Interlude (harp solo)

8. In Freezing Winter Night (Robert Southwell)

9. Spring Carol (William Cornish)

10. Deo gracias (anon.)

11. Recession (as for Procession)

Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes

Difficulty level: 3

The Ceremony of Carols is one of Britten's best-known and most-performed works. It is a brilliantly conceived and dramatic concert work which sees the voices process to their places singing unaccompanied plainsong and, at the end, processing out again to the same chant. These movements can also be accompanied but strictly only if the voices do not process. The final Alleluia can be repeated as many times as necessary to get the singers to and from their destination.

The carols are for three-part childrens voices (though, of course they can be sung by female adults as well) and they form a two-part work around a central Interlude for harp which is based on the plainsong from the Procession. Variety is the key word here as all the carols have such individual identities. The forthright Wolcum Yole!, the deliciously lyrical There is no Rose, the swinging Balulalow, the fiery and dramatic This little Babe all contribute to a work which is a feast of discovery throughout. Lovely solos and duos add further colour and the harp part, an inspired choice of accompaniment, enriches, colours and surrounds the voices with its pictorial musical imagery. If anything shows Britten's genius for writing for voices it must be this work.

The challenges here are in creating a real equality between voice parts, fielding a confident pair of soloists, and making the most of the wonderfully colourful poems Britten has chosen to set. Pronunciation is not really an issue, but when I recorded this work with the Finzi Singers I decided to follow the example of Sacred and Profane and use authentic medieval pronunciation for which an expert coach was necessary. It brings an added element of colour to a familiar aural experience.

Duration: 22 minutes

Paul Spicer, Lichfield, 2011.

  • Procession 
  • Wolcum Yole! 
  • There Is No Rose 
  • That Yonge Child 
  • Balulalow 
  • As Dew in Aprille 
  • This Little Babe 
  • Interlude 
  • In Freezing Winter Night 
  • Spring Carol 
  • Deo gracias 
  • Recession 

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A Ceremony of Carols op. 28
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  • Ratings + Reviews

  • 5

    John Howard
    Chebeague island, ME
    Difficulty Level:
  • October 26, 2012 overwhelming

    Be sure you have enough voices! It splits into divisi quite a lot. For small groups, especially with limited tenors/basses, give the men a break and use the SSA.

    16 of 31 people found this review helpful.
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  • 3

    Difficulty Level:
  • January 09, 2009 stick w/ SSA

    Great piece, but much better in its original treble version. Odd to have a German translation in the music.

    36 of 72 people found this review helpful.
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  • 5

    Walter Koehler
    Washington DC
    Difficulty Level:
  • November 18, 2008 A Christmas Standard

    Britten's Ceremony of Carols is among the best known choral works for Christmas, so I'm not sure what a review will tell you. I seem to recall an earlier edition where Britten said that piano accompaniment should not be substituted for the harp, but the currrent edition says...

    otherwise. In any case, church choirs should not shy away from performing at least selected movements from this wonderful work. Parts of it are quite challenging, for both choir and harp, but other parts are not so difficult.

    Read More
    42 of 74 people found this review helpful.
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  • 5

    Central Massachusetts
    Difficulty Level:
  • March 27, 2006 Hauntingly Beautiful w/Harp

    My church choir performed this with harp accompaniment and it was wonderful. It took a lot of work to get the harmonies down pat, but the choir was SO proud of themselves it was worth every minute of long practices. Highly recommend for dedicated singers.

    36 of 74 people found this review helpful.
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  • 5

    Cape Cod,MA
    Difficulty Level:
  • October 27, 2005 Choir

    Im in 7th grade and my select chorus at my school is doing is a challenge but I think it is really beautiful.

    36 of 67 people found this review helpful.
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