Sussex Carol

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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.[1][2]

Both the text and the tune to which it is now sung were discovered and written down by Cecil Sharp in Buckland, Gloucestershire and Ralph Vaughan Williams, who heard it being sung by a Harriet Verrall of Monk's Gate, near Horsham, Sussex (hence "Sussex Carol").[3] The tune to which it is generally sung today is the one Vaughan Williams took down from Mrs Verrall and published in 1919.[2]

An earlier version using a different tune, and a variation on the first line, On Christmas night true Christians sing, was published as early as 1878 in Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer's Christmas Carols New and Old.[4] The carol has been arranged by a number of composers. Vaughan Williams' setting is found in his Eight Traditional English Carols.[5] Several years earlier, Vaughan Williams had included the carol in his Fantasia on Christmas Carols, first performed at the 1912 Three Choirs Festival at Hereford Cathedral.[6] Erik Routley's arrangement in the 1961 University Carol Book adds a modal inflection to the setting.[7] The carol often appears at the King's College "Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols", where it is performed in arrangements by either David Willcocks or Philip Ledger, both former directors of music at the chapel.[8][9] Willcock's arrangement appears in the first OUP Carols for Choirs.[10]

Text[edit]

A number of variations on the text exist, although all feature the repetition of the first two stanzas. Below is a comparison between the text collected by Cecil Sharp in Gloucestershire, Ralph Vaughan Williams in Sussex (the version used in his Fantasia and both the David Willcocks and Philip Ledger arrangements) and the version printed by Bramley and Stainer in 1878.

Version collected by Cecil Sharp.[3]Version collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams.[8]Version in Christmas Carols New and Old (c.1870).[11]

On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear what news those angels bring;
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our Saviour King's own birth.

On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring.
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our merciful King's birth.

On Christmas night true Christians sing
To hear what news the angel bring
News of great joy, cause of great mirth
Good tidings of the Saviour's birth

Angels with joy sing in the air,
No music may with theirs compare;
While prisoners in their chains rejoice
To hear the echoes of that voice.

Then why should men on earth be so sad
Since our Redeemer made us glad,
When from sin He set us free
All for to gain our liberty.

Then why should men on earth be so sad,
Since our Redeemer made us glad,
When from our sin he set us free,
All for to gain our liberty?

So how on earth can men be sad,
When Jesus comes to make us glad;
From sin and hell to set us free,
And buy for us our liberty?

Now sin depart, behold His grace,
Everlasting life comes in its place,
And soon we shall its terror see
And poor and rich must conquered be.

When sin departs before His grace,
Then life and health come in its place.
Angels and men with joy may sing
All for to see the new-born King.

Let sin depart, while we His grace,
And glory see in Jesus' face;
For so shall we sure comforts find
When thus this day we bear in mind.

Then out of darkness we see light,
Which makes all angels to sing this night
Glory to God and peace to men
Both now and evermore. Amen.

All out of darkness we have light,
Which made the angels sing this night:
"Glory to God and peace to men,
Now and for evermore, Amen!"

And from the darkness we have light,
Which makes the Angels sing this night:
"Glory to God, His peace to men,
Both now and evermore." Amen.

References[edit]

  1. ^ John Garden, The Christmas Carol Dance Book, (Earthly Delights, 2003)
  2. ^ a b On Christmas Night, www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com
  3. ^ a b Cecil Sharp, English Folk-Carols ((London: Novello & Co., 1911), pp. 24-25.
  4. ^ Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., ca 1878)
  5. ^ Ralph Vaughan Williams, Eight Traditional English Carols, (Stainer & Bell, 1919)
  6. ^ Ralph Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on Christmas Carols (Stainer & Bell, 1912)
  7. ^ Erik Routley, "Sussex Carol" in The University Carol Book (reprint: Banks Music Publications, 2007)
  8. ^ a b Order of Service 2002, kings.cam.ac.uk
  9. ^ Order of Service 2005, kings.cam.ac.uk, p.20
  10. ^ Willcocks, Jacques, Carols for Choirs (Oxford University Press)
  11. ^ Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., ca 1878).

See also[edit]