Words: 16th Century
Music: Kenneth Leighton
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. In British composer Kenneth Leighton’s 1956 setting, the mother’s words are sung by a desperately haunting treble solo which sighs mournfully above the gently ebbing and flowing accompaniment of the rest of the choir. In the third verse, the choir takes over the narrative to tell of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, ending with a viciously dramatic ‘To Slay’. Then the soloist resumes, taking the work to its doleful finish – Leighton’s major-key final chord, however, does suggest some slight glimmer of hope.