Carols for Choirs

Last updated

Carols for Choirs
Carols for Choirs.jpg
Covers of the original editions of
Carols for Choirs post 1970
EditorSir David Willcocks, Reginald Jacques & John Rutter
CountryUnited Kingdom
Language English
Subject Sheet Music - Religious
Publisher Oxford University Press
Publication date
Media typePrint (paperback)
ISBN 9780193532229 (Vol 1)
Website Carols for Choirs on

Carols for Choirs is a collection of choral scores, predominantly of Christmas carols and hymns, first published in 1961 by Oxford University Press. It was edited by Sir David Willcocks and Reginald Jacques, and is a widely used source of carols in the British Anglican tradition and among British choral societies. [1] A second volume was published in 1970, edited by David Willcocks and John Rutter, and the collection is now available in five volumes. A compendium edition was published later. In addition to music for Christmas, the collection also offers works that are suitable for other Christian festivals such as Advent and Epiphany.

Sheet music is a handwritten or printed form of musical notation that uses musical symbols to indicate the pitches (melodies), rhythms or chords of a song or instrumental musical piece. Like its analogs – printed books or pamphlets in English, Arabic or other languages – the medium of sheet music typically is paper, although the access to musical notation since the 1980s has included the presentation of musical notation on computer screens and the development of scorewriter computer programs that can notate a song or piece electronically, and, in some cases, "play back" the notated music using a synthesizer or virtual instruments.

Christmas carol Song or hymn or carol on the theme of Christmas

A Christmas carol is a carol whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas, and which is traditionally sung on Christmas itself or during the surrounding holiday season. Christmas carols may be regarded as a subset of the broader category of Christmas music.

Hymn type of song specifically written for the purpose of adoration or prayer

A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification. The word hymn derives from Greek ὕμνος (hymnos), which means "a song of praise". A writer of hymns is known as a hymnodist. The singing or composition of hymns is called hymnody. Collections of hymns are known as hymnals or hymn books. Hymns may or may not include instrumental accompaniment.


The books contain the most commonly performed carols and their harmony arrangements, with descants from the editors (mainly Willcocks) which have become the de facto standard descants for these tunes in the Anglican communion in the UK. Most of the arrangements were originally written for use by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge or the Bach Choir in London.

A descant, discant, or discantus is any of several different things in music, depending on the period in question; etymologically, the word means a voice (cantus) above or removed from others.

Choir of Kings College, Cambridge Choir

The King's College Choir is a British choir. It is considered one of today's most accomplished and renowned representatives of the great English choral tradition. It was created by King Henry VI, who founded King's College, Cambridge, in 1441, to provide daily singing in his Chapel, which remains the main task of the choir to this day.

The Bach Choir is a large independent musical organisation, founded in London, UK, in 1876 to give the first performance of J. S. Bach's Mass in B minor in Britain.


A choir singing from Carols for Choirs in the Natural History Museum, London A choir of Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum staff members sing carols in the central hall of the Natural History Museum 02.jpg
A choir singing from Carols for Choirs in the Natural History Museum, London

Carols For Choirs was originally launched by the organist and music editor at Oxford University Press Christopher Morris. Whilst working at St George's, Hanover Square, he realised that church choirs lacked a definitive book of Christmas carols, and felt that a single book would be more convenient than using separate pieces of sheet music and hymn books. [2] Under his direction, the first book of Carols for Choirs was commissioned. To edit the collection, Morris enlisted David Willcocks, Director of Music at King's College, Cambridge, and Reginald Jacques, conductor of the Bach Choir. [3] The book was published in 1961, containing new arrangements of traditional carols, but it also popularised pieces by modern composers such as William Walton, Benjamin Britten, Richard Rodney Bennett, William Mathias and John Rutter. [4] Carols for Choirs was an instant success and became OUP Music Department's best-selling title, with over a million copies being sold. [2] OUP were keen to commission a second volume, but after the death of Jacques in 1969, a new editor had to be found to support Willcocks, and an undergraduate at Cambridge University, John Rutter, was recruited. Carols for Choirs 2 was published in 1970. [3]

Organist musician who plays any type of organ

An organist is a musician who plays any type of organ. An organist may play solo organ works, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers or instrumental soloists. In addition, an organist may accompany congregational hymn-singing and play liturgical music.

William Walton English composer

Sir William Turner Walton, OM was an English composer. During a sixty-year career, he wrote music in several classical genres and styles, from film scores to opera. His best-known works include Façade, the cantata Belshazzar's Feast, the Viola Concerto, the First Symphony, and the British coronation anthems Crown Imperial and Orb and Sceptre.

Benjamin Britten English composer, conductor, and pianist

Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten was an English composer, conductor and pianist. He was a central figure of 20th-century British classical music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. His best-known works include the opera Peter Grimes (1945), the War Requiem (1962) and the orchestral showpiece The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1945).

The books in the Carols For Choirs collection came to be regarded as standard choral texts throughout the English-speaking world and were highly influential; according to the composer John Rutter, they "changed the whole sound of Christmas for everybody who sings". [2] [4]


Choir singers usually refer to the books by the colours of their covers, with the "green" and "orange" books (volumes 1 and 2) being the most widely used. The "blue" book (volume 3) contains a number of longer anthems, [5] and the "red" book features fifty carols arranged for sopranos and altos. [6] In July 2011, Oxford University Press published the fifth incarnation of the original series, Carols for Choirs 5, edited by composer Bob Chilcott, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first volume. [7]

Bob Chilcott English choral conductor and composer

Robert "Bob" Chilcott is a British choral composer, conductor, and singer, based in Oxfordshire, England. He was a member of the King's Singers from 1985 to 1997, singing tenor. He has been a composer since 1997.

International Standard Book Number Unique numeric book identifier

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.

Oxford University Press later expanded the series with volumes appropriate for other church seasons, for example: [7]


See also

Related Research Articles

A carol is in Modern English a festive song, generally religious but not necessarily connected with church worship, and often with a dance-like or popular character. The verb caroling also refers to the singing of carols.

Nine Lessons and Carols Traditional Christmas service of Christian worship

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a service of Christian worship, traditionally celebrated on Christmas Eve. The story of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus is told in nine short Bible readings or lessons from Genesis, the prophetic books and the Gospels, interspersed with the singing of Christmas carols, hymns and choir anthems.

John Rutter British composer, conductor and arranger

John Milford Rutter is an English composer, conductor, editor, arranger and record producer, mainly of choral music.

David Willcocks British choral conductor, organist and composer

Sir David Valentine Willcocks, was a British choral conductor, organist, composer and music administrator. He was particularly well known for his association with the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, which he directed from 1957 to 1974, making frequent broadcasts and recordings. Several of the descants and carol arrangements he wrote for the annual service of Nine Lessons and Carols were published in the series of books Carols for Choirs which he edited along with Reginald Jacques and John Rutter. He was also director of the Royal College of Music in London.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing Christmas carol

"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is a Christmas carol that first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems. Its lyrics had been written by Charles Wesley. Wesley had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, not the joyful tune expected today. Moreover, Wesley's original opening couplet is "Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings".

O Come, All Ye Faithful Christmas carol of unknown authorship

"O Come, All Ye Faithful" is a Christmas carol that has been attributed to various authors, including John Francis Wade (1711–1786), John Reading (1645–1692), King John IV of Portugal (1604–1656), and anonymous monks. The earliest printed version is in a book published by Wade, but the earliest manuscript bears the name of King John IV, and is located in the library of the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa. A manuscript by Wade, dating to 1751, is held by Stonyhurst College in Lancashire.

"Ding Dong Merrily on High" is a Christmas carol. The tune first appeared as a secular dance tune known under the title "Branle de l'Official" in Orchésographie, a dance book written by Jehan Tabourot (1519–1593). The lyrics are from English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848–1934), and the carol was first published in 1924 in his The Cambridge Carol-Book: Being Fifty-two Songs for Christmas, Easter, And Other Seasons. Woodward took an interest in church bell ringing, which no doubt aided him in writing it. Woodward was the author of several carol books, including Songs of Syon and The Cowley Carol Book. The macaronic style is characteristic of Woodward’s delight in archaic poetry. Charles Wood harmonised the tune when it was published with Woodward's text in The Cambridge Carol Book. More recently, Sir David Willcocks made an arrangement for the second book of Carols for Choirs.

Robert Lucas de Pearsall English composer

Robert Lucas Pearsall was an English composer mainly of vocal music, including an elaborate setting of "In dulci jubilo" still heard today.

<i>Piae Cantiones</i>

Piae Cantiones ecclesiasticae et scholasticae veterum episcoporum is a collection of late medieval Latin songs first published in 1582. It was compiled by Jacobus Finno, a clergyman who was headmaster of the cathedral school at Turku. Publication was undertaken by Theodoricus Petri Rutha of Nyland, who lived from about 1560 to about 1630. He came from an aristocratic family in Finland, and was educated at Rostock.

Boris Ord British musician

Boris Ord was a British organist and choirmaster of King's College, Cambridge (1929-1957). During World War II he served in the Royal Air Force. He is best known for his choral setting of Adam lay ybounden, his only published composition.

"I Saw Three Ships " is a traditional and popular Christmas carol from England. The earliest printed version of "I Saw Three Ships" is from the 17th century, possibly Derbyshire, and was also published by William Sandys in 1833.

<i>The New Oxford Book of Carols</i> book by Andrew Parrott

The New Oxford Book of Carols is a collection of vocal scores of Christmas carols. It was first published in 1992 by Oxford University Press (OUP) and was edited by Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott. It is a widely used source of carols in among choirs and church congregations in Britain.

The "Sussex Carol" is a Christmas carol popular in Britain, sometimes referred to by its first line "On Christmas night all Christians sing". Its words were first published by Luke Wadding, a 17th-century Irish bishop, in a work called Small Garland of Pious and Godly Songs (1684). It is unclear whether Wadding wrote the song or was recording an earlier composition.

Resonet in laudibus song composed by anonymous with lyrics by anonymous performed by Ars Nova Copenhagen

Resonet in laudibus, translated into English as "Let the voice of praise resound", is a 14th-century carol which was widely known in medieval Europe, and is still performed today. Although probably earlier, in manuscript form it first appears in the Moosburg Gradual of 1360 and occurs in several 15th, 16th and 17th century printed collections from both Catholic and Lutheran traditions.

<i>In dulci jubilo</i> sacred Song with lyrics by Henry Suso

In dulci jubilo is a traditional Christmas carol. In its original setting, the carol is a macaronic text of German and Latin dating from the Middle Ages. Subsequent translations into English, such as J. M. Neale's arrangement "Good Christian Men, Rejoice" have increased its popularity, and Robert Pearsall's 1837 macaronic translation is a mainstay of the Christmas Nine Lessons and Carols repertoire. J. S. Bach's chorale prelude based on the tune is also a traditional postlude for Christmas services.

Thomas Reginald Jacques was an English choral and orchestral conductor. His legacy includes various choral music arrangements, but he is not primarily remembered as a composer.

"The Lord bless you and keep you" is a classical sacred choral composition by John Rutter, based on Numbers 6:24-26. It is a setting of a biblical benediction, followed by an extended "Amen". Rutter scored the piece for four vocal parts (SATB) and organ. He composed it in 1981 for the memorial service of Edward T. Chapman, the director of music at Highgate School, London, with whom he had studied when he attended the school.

<i>The Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems</i>

The Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems is a collection of vocal scores of music from the Tudor era of England (c.1550-1625). It was published in 1978 by Oxford University Press and was compiled by the organist and publisher Christopher Morris (1922-2014), the editor of OUP who also launched the popular Carols for Choirs series of books in the 1970s. The preface is written Sir David Willcocks.

The Rocking Carol, also known as "Little Jesus, Sweetly Sleep" and "Rocking", is an English Christmas carol by Percy Dearmer. It was translated from Czech in 1928 and is performed as a lullaby to the baby Jesus.

The "Shepherd's Pipe Carol" is a modern Christmas carol composed by John Rutter. Rutter composed the carol whilst he was an undergraduate at university in 1966 with it being published a year later at the behest of David Willcocks.


  1. Whiteley, edited by Sheila (2008). Christmas, Ideology and Popular Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 96. ISBN   9780748631872.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. 1 2 3 Bannister, Matthew (21 December 2014). "Christopher Morris Obituary". Last Word. 25 minutes in. BBC. BBC Radio 4 . Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  3. 1 2 Beeson, Trevor (2009). "17. The Oxbridge Choirs". In Tuneful Accord : the church musicians. London: SCM. p. 141. ISBN   9780334041931.
  4. 1 2 "Christopher Morris, musician - obituary". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  5. Senior, Evan, ed. (1978). "Carols for Choirs 3". Music and Musicians. Hansom Books. 27: 25.
  6. "Reviews". Brio. International Association of Music Libraries, United Kingdom Branch. 43 (1). 2006.
  7. 1 2 "for Choirs Collections". Choral Series. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 5 October 2016. Retrieved 5 October 2016.