Carols for Choirs 5: 50th Anniversary Edition

June 28, 2019

In 1961, Oxford University Press released the first edition of Carols for Choirs. Compiled and Edited by Reginald Jacques and David Willcocks, this book transformed the Christmas season for church choirs and concert choirs alike. The publication made available both practical arrangements of popular Christmas carols for amateur choirs and challenging new repertoire for more professional groups. The book also helped to popularize the service of Nine Lessons and Carols made famous by King’s College, Cambridge.

Since the original publication, three subsequent collections compiled and edited by David Willcocks and John Rutter have become standard issues for choirs around the world. Many of David Willcocks’ descants and John Rutter’s arrangements are now part of the standard canon of Christmas music.  Carols for Choirs 2 included a wide selection of material for Advent, a season rich in spiritual allegory in its own right but often overshaddowed by the looming arrival of Christmas.  Carols for Choirs 4 offered a much-needed collection of repertoire for upper voices, while Carols for Choirs 3 and the later 100 Carols for Choirs expanded the repertoire significantly.  The scope of the series was made more global by the publication of two volumes titled World Carols for Choirs.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Carols for Choirs series, Oxford University Press published a brand new collection, Carols for Choirs 5.  The editorial duties were passed on to the next generation of English Organist-Composers, Bob Chilcott and David Blackwell.  The main strength of this new volume is its focus on new carols by living composers.  Forty of the fifty carols included in the collection are newly composed in recent years.  Many of these are new settings of familiar texts.  The collection includes Matthew Owens’ setting of The Holly and the Ivy and two settings of There Is No Rose by Alan Smith and Howard Skempton.  Andrew Simpson’s setting of I Saw Three Ships uses a curious new translation of the traditional text.

Added to these are ten favourites, often with new arrangements or harmonizations.  Among these are Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, arranged by David Blackwell, and a rhythmic setting of Ding dong! Merrily on High by Mack Wilberg.

Many of the carols are suitable for a cappella performance while orchestral parts are available for about half of the collection making these pieces suitable for concert performance. An edition with spiral-binding is also available for conductors and accompanists.

Looking for similar quality choral collections outside of the Christmas season?  Check out our blog on Oxford University Press’ other “For Choir” series.

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