A New Carol for an Old Christmas Tradition
by Alex Marshall
LONDON — Every Christmas Eve, the British composer Cecilia McDowall follows the same routine. At 3 p.m., as family members arrive at her London home, she goes into the kitchen, turns on the radio and starts making a Christmas pudding — a slow-cooked, booze-soaked British dessert — while listening to the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, perform its Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
That service of Bible readings and Christmas music is one of Britain’s best known festive traditions, broadcast live on radio stations worldwide, including on around 450 in the United States. A spokesman for the choir estimated that 100 million listeners would tune in. But this year, McDowall won’t be in the kitchen. Instead, she will be sitting in King’s College’s huge Gothic chapel, listening as the choir performs There Is No Rose, a carol she has written especially for the event.
Read the full article in the New York Times here.
News from King’s website: ‘The new carol for A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve 2021 is a setting by Cecilia McDowall of There is no rose.
King’s College’s Director of Music, Daniel Hyde, asked McDowall to write something that would bring ‘a moment of stillness’ in the Christmas Eve service, giving her freedom to choose her own text.
McDowall told Choir & Organ Magazine: ‘For this carol I looked for words that would help me express a feeling of intimacy and quiet joy: a text that could lend itself to a slower tempo; nothing too animated. I have always loved the medieval poem There is no rose, and after looking through many different texts I felt this macaronic gem would be just the one to convey the spirit I was after. Of course, how could one not be aware of such exquisite existing settings, notably those of Britten and Joubert? And yet the intensity and beauty of these words seemed so appropriate for that quieter moment of contemplation within the service.
This year’s new carol continues a tradition begun in 1983 by Sir Stephen Cleobury, with a new carol written for the popular Christmas Eve service every year since, except for 2020. There is no rose is commissioned by King’s College with support from the late Lucian Nethsingha, in whose memory the commission is written.
‘I am delighted that Cecilia McDowall has written a new setting of There is no rose for our Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols this year, with support from Lucian Nethsingha; Lucian was an undergraduate at King’s prior to a distinguished career at St Michael’s Tenbury and Exeter Cathedral. Lucian died earlier this year, and it is appropriate that we should honour his memory in this way’.
Daniel Hyde, Director of Music
Also on BBC 2 at 6.15 Carols from King’s
There is no rose of such virtue
As is the rose that bare Jesu:
For in this rose containèd was
Heav’n and earth in little space:
By that rose we may well see
That he is God in persons three:
The angels sungen, the shepherds too:
Gloria in excelsis Deo:
Leave we all this worldly mirth,
And follow we this joyful birth:
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast at 3.00pm on BBC Radio 4 and may be found at this link.
Available until 28 January, 2022.