Carols. Without them, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas. From angel-singing, bell-ringing ebullience to deep, spiritual contemplation, nothing can match them in terms of creating an atmosphere – whether echoing through a vast cathedral, or sung by children in a nativity play, their power to move can be simply overwhelming.
But what are the truly great carols of all time? We reveal the top tunes, as voted for by 50 top choral experts from around the world.
‘Ebeneezer Scrooge took exception to this traditional English carol in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, reacting so furiously to it that the carol singer on the other side of the door ran away ‘in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost’’ (read more…)
‘This beautiful Cornish carol first came to light during the 19th century. A Mr WD Watson, so the story goes, heard it sung in St Day – Sen Day in Cornish – a village named after a Breton saint’ (read more…)
‘Best known for his finely wrought keyboard works, early 17th-century Dutch composer Sweelinck also wrote some heavy-weight choral music, of which this joyful carol is one of his best examples’ (read more…)
‘Did 16th-century Spaniard Tomás Luis de Victoria study under the great Palestrina? While we can’t be sure, the fluid counterpoint of his 1572 motet O Magnum Mysterium is worthy of the Italian master himself.’ (read more…)
‘Every year, one King’s College, Cambridge chorister is chosen to open the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols with the exposed solo verse of Once in Royal in front of a packed chapel… and several million radio listeners.’ (read more…)
‘American readers might have first heard this exquisite miniature masterpiece in a Volvo advertisement, yet it was originally written for the choir of King’s College, Cambridge for their 1987 service of Nine Lessons and Carols.’ (read more…)
'Few carols have words that can be traced back as early as this. ‘Corde natus ex parentis’ was written by Roman poet Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, who lived in northern Spain from, roughly, 350 to 400 AD.' (read more…)
‘Though thought to find its roots in the world of medieval mystery plays, this Cornish carol was first published in 1833, when it appeared in William Sandys’s volume Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern.’ (read more…)
‘The Coventry Carol, which dates back to the 16th century, is about as dark as Christmas carols get, with its doomladen words depicting a mother’s fears for the fate of her child as she lulls him to sleeps.’ (read more…)
‘The outward beauty of Warlock’s Bethlehem Down, combined with a very English sort of introverted melancholy, complements the sombre yet reverent mood of many a traditional candle-lit carol service.’ (read more…)
‘Its ancient German tune has become familiar in many guises, such as the famous Bach Christmas organ chorale prelude, the hymn ‘Good Christian Men Rejoice’ or even Mike Oldfield’s 1975 chart hit.’ (read more…)