Advent Calendar Day 18: Coventry Carol

A bit late today, because WordPress ate my Coventry Carol post, and I only just noticed. I’m afraid I’m too tired to write it all out again, so you may have to settle for beautiful and haunting music with limited commentary…

This carol comes, as many people know, from a 16th century mystery play, and tells the story of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.  The short version of the story is that Herod heard from the wise men that a King had been born in Bethlehem, and realising that nobody from his family had been born in Bethlehem recently, decided to get rid of this potential usurper by killing all the infants in Bethlehem.  Cheerful stuff, and perhaps not really the stuff of Advent, but if Advent is about waiting and preparing and expecting the birth of Jesus, then perhaps one needs to acknowledge that the preparations were not all positive ones.

I like this version very much – it’s less well-known than the one they teach you to play on the recorder in Grade 2, but I find its irregularity and those wrong-sounding F naturals are very haunting.

In lieu of further wordage, here’s a link to another recording of this carol, this time for solo voice with lute.  I don’t actually entirely love Valeria Mignaco’s singing style, but her expressiveness and sense of fear and urgency is amazing, and makes me cry whenever I listen to it… so she is clearly doing something very right indeed.

(I honestly wasn’t trying to be topical with this carol, but when I realised why it kept on coming to mind, I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave it out.  Another reminder, of the universality of human experience, and perhaps also a form of prayer?  I am too exhausted right now to disentangle it, I just know it feels right.)

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