The Music Plays On — Britten Ceremony of Carols

Donato Cabrera
5 min readDec 20, 2020

In 1942, while traveling by boat from the United States to England, the British composer, Benjamin Britten, wrote a series of nine songs for three-part children’s choir and harp based on predominantly Middle English Christmas poems from The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems, edited by Gerald Bullett. They were originally intended as separate songs, but Britten would later tie them together with a processional and recessional of the Gregorian chant, Hodie Christus natus est (Today is Christ born) and named the collection, Ceremony of Carols. In 1943, Britten arranged the piece for four-part adult choir and both are now frequently sung.

This is a lovely performance of the original version for three-part children’s choir sung by the Boys of Christ Church Cathedral Choir Oxford.

And here is a beautiful performance of the 1943 four-part version by the S:t Jacobs Vokalensemble

And here’s an excellent recording of the 1942 version by the King’s College Choir —

Here are the texts for the songs:

1. “Procession”

Hodie Christus natus est:
hodie Salvator apparuit:
hodie in terra canunt angeli:
laetantur archangeli:
hodie exsultant justi dicentes:
gloria in excelsis Deo.

2. “Wolcum Yole!”

Wolcum, Wolcum,
Wolcum be thou hevenè king,
Wolcum Yole!
Wolcum, born in one morning,
Wolcum for whom we sall sing!

Wolcum be ye, Stevene and Jon,
Wolcum, Innocentes every…