A Service of Lessons and Carols for Advent
- Introit: Alfred Burt - Some children see him
- Opening Carol: "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"
- First Lesson - Book of Genesis
God announces in the Garden of Eden that the seed of woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.
- Carol: Conrad Susa – “Adam lay in bondage”
- Second Lesson - Book of Isaiah
The Prophet proclaims good news to a people in exile.
- Carol: Heinrich von Herzogenberg – “Comest thou, light of gladness?”
- Third Lesson - Book of Jeremiah
The Lord promises to send his people a righteous King.
- Carol: Britten – “A Boy Was Born”
- Fourth Lesson - Book of Isaiah
The Prophet foretells the glory of the kingdom of God.
- Carol: Handel – “And the glory of the Lord” (from Messiah)
- Fifth Lesson - Book of Isaiah
God promises that a child shall be conceived who will be known as ‘God with Us’.
- Carol: Walton – “All this time”
- Sixth Lesson - St. Luke
The Angel Gabriel salutes the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- Carol: Joubert – “There is no rose”
- Congregational Carol: “The Angel Gabriel from heaven came”
- Seventh Lesson - St. Mark
Jesus is baptized by John and proclaims the coming of the kingdom of God.
- Congregational Carol: “Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding”
- Closing Carol: Stephen Jackson “Noël Nouvelet”
- Congregational Carol: "Lo! He comes with clouds descending”
|A History of The Service of Lessons and Carols|
“In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” In the bleak midwinter, the gloom of human transgression is dispersed by the light of the Incarnation, when God breaks through time to bestow the gift of his Son on a sin-haunted humanity to reconcile it to himself and inaugurate his Kingdom on earth.
The season of Advent is one of expectancy, of anticipation of that light manifested in the improbable birth of Christ to the lowliest of parents in the meanest of circumstances. Yet by this lavish act of love, God, as St. Paul wrote, redeems the world’s foolishness by making wise what was foolish.
The beloved tradition of Lessons and Carols, established at King’s College, Cambridge University at the conclusion of the Great War, continues to delight audiences across the globe each Christmas Eve. The Anglican Singers have adapted this observance to a service of scriptural readings and carols befitting the season of Advent.
Carol-singing dates to the early Christian era. It was suppressed for a time by the Church, then revived during the High Middle Ages. Like religious art on church walls and stained glass windows, carols tell the story of man’s fall, redemption, and final judgment. The word “carol” derives from the ancient Greek word koros, a circle of dancers and singers who served as choir and commentary in the dramas of Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides.
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“Some children see Him,” written in 1951, is part of a collection of charming poems conceived by the Reverend Bates G. Burt (1878-1948) and his friend Wihla Hutson (1901-2002), and set to music by his son, the composer Alfred Burt (1920-1954). The elder Burt, an Episcopal priest in Pontiac, Michigan, began in 1922 to write verses on Christmas cards which he sent to friends and family. During World War II, he asked his musician son Alfred to set these seasonal poems to music. When the Reverend Burt died in 1948, a family friend, Wihla Hutson, took up the collaboration with Alfred until the latter’s untimely death (from lung cancer) in 1954.
“Some children see Him” is a tender piece in which the face of baby Jesus is seen through the eyes of children of all races and colors and places of origin.
Conrad Susa (b. 1935) is an American composer and conductor of wide renown. His compositions in several genres have been performed throughout the United States and abroad. “Adam lay in bondage” is a catchy rendition of the anonymous 14th-century carol – not as familiar perhaps as Boris Ord’s setting, but delightful in its cheerful, quirky syncopation.
Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900) was a prominent 19th-century Austrian composer. An ardent admirer of the music of his contemporary Johannes Brahms, he wrote a well-known set, Variations on a Theme of Brahms (as the latter had done on a piece by Haydn). Von Herzogenberg composed a large body of works for orchestra, solo instrument and voice, as well as music for organ and chorus. His lovely six-part anthem “Christmas Song,” a fine example of 19th-century German Romanticism, is set to text written by the German poet Ernst Christoph Homburg (1605-1681). This is the perfect Advent hymn – eager, pleading anticipation of the mystery of the Incarnation, unveiled in the birth of a helpless baby.
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) is arguably one of England’s most acclaimed 20th-century composers, whose works, secular and sacred, are regularly performed worldwide. His most prolific output was in opera, but perhaps his most familiar compositions are “A Ceremony of Carols,” “Hymn to St. Cecilia,” “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” and War Requiem. This last was inspired by World War I poet Wilfred Owen, whose gut-wrenching poems, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and “Dulce et decorum est,” inspired and transformed Britten. The musician was a conscientious objector who never tasted battle; the poet a decorated officer on the Western Front whom a bullet felled seven days before the Armistice. Yet both artists pledged their gifts in protest against the immorality and futility of war.
Britten’s “A boy was born,” written in 1933 and dedicated to his father, is a tender lullaby, set to a 16th-century German text, whose eloquence lies in its unpretentious simplicity.
In complete contrast, Handel’s “And the Glory of the Lord,” from the Christmas portion of his Baroque masterpiece, The Messiah, is bold and brassy: a celebration of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of redemption. Born German, the bigger-than-life Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759), like his countryman Georg, Prince Elector of Hanover (crowned George I of Great Britain in 1714), immigrated to England, where he became a naturalized citizen and lived out his life.
The sprightly and popular “All this time” is a 16th-century carol of unknown origin, delightfully arranged by British composer William Walton (1902-1983). A musical prodigy, Walton may be best known for his opus, “Crown Imperial,” composed for the coronation of King George VI in 1937.
John Joubert’s “There is no rose of such virtue” is a luminous motet whose text is reminiscent of the metaphysical poetry of the 17th century. Despite his French name, Joubert (b. 1927) is British (though of Huguenot descent), born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. Over a long lifetime, he has composed prolifically – but not exclusively – organ and choral music for the Church.
The Singers’ final anthem this evening is the sparkling French carol “Noel Nouvelet,” arranged in 1986 by Stephen Jackson (b. 1951) for the Kings College Choir of Cambridge University. One of Britain’s foremost choir masters, Mr. Jackson directs the BBC Symphony Chorus, the Trinity College of Music Chamber Choir, and the Cheltenham Bach Choir, among others. In his setting of “Noel Nouvelet,” the ingredients of a simple tune are rendered into a zesty broth of bold, unexpected harmonies and rhythms.
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Once again, the Anglican Singers are privileged to dedicate, with heartfelt thanks, this Advent Service of Lessons & Carols to the Parish of St. James and the City of New London; and they wish all in attendance the joy and peace of this season so abounding in both.
Anne Carr Bingham