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These carol arrangements (together with a few original compositions) were made bit by bit over the past twenty years and first performed by whichever group I was working with at the time. Those groups have included Theatre of Voices, in both its Californian and now Scandinavian incarnations; the Pro Arte Singers of the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, Bloomington; Ars Nova Copenhagen; and most recently the National Chamber Choir of Ireland. I am indebted to all the singers involved, who thus unwittingly helped me prepare this collection, and equally to Robina Young and Brad Michel, who produced and engineered the four Christmas CDs I have made for Harmonia Mundi USA on which all the arrangements have appeared*.
This then is a personal collection of all those carols that it has interested me to arrange for performance. There has been no plan behind the choice of pieces beyond a wish to provide variety and to represent both the Old and New Worlds. My approach all along has been to try and leave each carol musically intact inside its own tradition, and yet feel free to invent my own sense of where that tradition leads when writing for modern singers. Most of the carols conform to no particular definition of the word ‘carol’ beyond the convenient notion that carols are what people like to sing when they go carol singing, or like to hear when they go to a carol service. There is a core repertoire of such pieces, often of very miscellaneous ancestry, which everyone recognizes as being ‘traditional’. In fact some of the most familiar carols are not as old as we might think. Songs such as The Holly and the Ivy and Ding! Dong! Merrily on high may already feel like grey-bearded and hoary relics, but they are little more than a century old, though they incorporate elements that are much older.
Carols from the Old and New Worlds is being issued in two separate parts. The second part will appear after a couple more Christmases and will focus primarily on the ‘New World’ of North America. This first part focuses on Europe, particularly the Alpine region where Germany and Italy meet Switzerland; most of the remaining pieces are English.
The performance notes below offer a few suggestions as to interpretation, some comments on sources, and translations of all non-English texts. Singers and conductors will notice that I have often been sparing with dynamic and other forms of expression marks. Where this is the case it’s because I saw it as part of my ‘arrangement’ to leave those criteria open: but this should not be taken to infer that no variation in expression is desired. The style of performance should aim to match the nature of the music and its background. Leise rieselt der Schnee is a German partsong that calls for the sensibility of a Lied singer, while Here we come a-wassailing is more of a dance song and needs little beyond clear words and great spirit. In many pieces the tune is untouched, whereas in The Holly and the Ivy the counterpoint takes over for a while. Most arrangements are monocultural, but one or two break out of their boundaries, Stille Nacht making a guest appearance in Ding! Dong! Merrily on high for example.
Paul Hillier, Copenhagen, July 2013.
* Carols from the Old and New Worlds, a series of 3 CDs; and The Christmas Story: all available on Harmonia Mundi USA.
Performance notes, translations etc. can be found here
1. Adam lay ibounden
2. Cherry Tree Carol, The
3. Ding! Dong! Merrily on high
4. Dormi, dormi o bel Bambin
5. Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
6. Gaudete, Christus est natus
7. Heissa Buama
8. Here we come a-wassailing
9. Holly and the Ivy, The
10a. Liebe Hirten
11. Leise rieselt der Schnee
12. O come all ye faithful (Adeste Fideles)
13. O come, O come Emmanuel
14. Personent hodie
15. Remember O thou man
16. Rorate Cœli
17. Still o Himmel
18. Still, still, still
19. We Three Kings
20. We wish you a merry Christmas