HAPPY CHRISTMAS!. To celebrate the feast, here’s a selection from the renowned Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols that took place yesterday at King’s College, Cambridge.
After the fifth lesson came I sing of a maiden by Lennox Berkeley, a sublime creation, its ostensible simplicity containing some lovely harmonic piquancy. Berkeley was the first composer to be commissioned to write a new anthem for this service, back in the early 1980s, beginning an admirable tradition of commissioning a new work each year.
New music of real quality came after the eighth lesson: Judith Weir‘s Illuminare, Jerusalem was commissioned for this service in 1985, and is an astonishing carol setting. Her choice of text is an interesting one, using some old Scottish verse, laden with such gems as “Thre kingis of strenge regionis to thee ar cumin with lusty rout, all drest with dyamantis…” – it’s no surprise Weir felt so drawn to this wonderful text. Her setting is marvellous, fanfare-like and exploring progressively lower vocal regions, all of which are shockingly underpinned by deep (but ever-so-brief) organ pedals at each occurrence of the word “Illuminare”.