A Mother’s Lament

This week sees Becca’s turn for a solo spot in our Folk Song A Week project, and she has chosen her favourite carol to continue our Christmas theme for December: Coventry Carol.

I find the history of this piece of music fascinating.  It is not a true “carol” in the traditional sense of the word, in that it has no true religious beginnings such as O Come O Come Emmanuel that I performed last week.  Instead this song is rooted in historic English theatre (which explains why Becca loves it so much!)

The song is a remnant of a 16th century Coventry Corpus Christi play called “The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors”, which was one of a series of Medieval mystery plays in which local players would enact passages from the bible, and this song is the only surviving from this production.  This particular play deals with the murder of firstborn sons enacted by King Herod in his attempt to kill the baby Jesus before he could usurp him.  This song is a final lullaby sung by the mourning mothers to their dead children, and is hauntingly beautiful.

The modern lyrics are mostly attributed to a Mr Robert Croo in 1534, although the source of the modern musical arrangement is unknown.

Becca’s voice lends itself perfectly to this haunting, lyrical lullaby and we really hope you enjoy her a cappella version of this classic musical theatre number!

A Step Into Christmas

So we’ve had a slight issue this week, Becca has gone! Yep, she’s gone off to Kent to take part in a touring pantomime, as you do! So while she’s away I’ve had to fill in for the music this week, although I’m not continuing my singing career into this week!

As it’s now December we had always wanted to do a new Christmas song each week, and as it was just me I decided to do an instrumental version of my favourite ever carol: O Come O Come Emmanuel.

This song probably has the longest history of any song we’ve done so far, and can trace it’s lineage back to 9th century monastic life! Seven days before Christmas Eve monasteries would sing the “O antiphons” in anticipation of Christmas Eve, when the eighth antiphon, “O Virgo virginum” (“O Virgin of virgins”) would be sung before and after Mary’s canticle, the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46b-55).

The version that we know, however, is a little more modern and can be traced back to an English translator called John Mason Neal who included it in his 1851 work “Medieval Hymns and Sequences”.


The image above is a scan from the Latin version of the carol, included in the 1844 work: Thesaurus Hymnologicus.

This is my own arrangement of the tune, although the chord sequences are already commonly used I tried to add a little of my own style to it.  I hope you enjoy it.