The Coventry Carol

Music: 16th. C. anon. arr. Mark Burstow. Words: Anon
performance time approx 2m 40s
Range T: a – f' / Bar: d♭ – a♭ / B: F – e♭
Price code: A
Complexity: *

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This beautifully austere carol used to be sung in one of the Coventry mystery plays, or religious pageants, that were performed in major English towns in the 15th and 16th centuries. It is a lament by the women (or here, men!) of Bethlehem before Herod's murder of their young children and makes a good contrast to the more celebratory side of Christmas music. It should be sung as simply as possible; a ‘white’ tone with neither warmth nor rage is ideal.

Mark Burstow's arrangement is essentially a revoicing of the earliest version known of the carol — a setting for STB voices found in a manuscript dating from 1591.


Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By, by, lully, lulla,
Thou little tiny child,
By, by, lully, lulla.

O sisters two,
How may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling
For whom we do sing:
‘By, by, lully, lullay’?

Herod the King,
In his raging,
Chargèd he hath this day
His men of might,
In his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me,
Poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and sigh.
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing:
‘By, by, lully, lullay’.

16th century carol (from dubious transcriptions of a manuscript lost in a library fire in 1875, spelling modernised)

Purchase – 4018: The Coventry Carol

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