Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On the Fourth Day of Christmas: The Holy Innocents

Not all of our carols are joyful or heart-warming.  A number of commemorations fall during Christmastide, and those are not all warm and fuzzy.  Stephen was the first martyr.  The Holy innocents were the children Herod killed after the visit of the Magi.

Where Good King Wenceslas mentions the Feast of Stephen, The Coventry Carol is all about the Holy Innocents. Where "Away in a Manger" is heart-warming, the Coventry Carol is mournful. Where "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" is exuberant, the Coventry Carol is disconsolate. It is a lullaby that tries to comfort the boy Jesus during a tumultuous time.

One might call it Mary's Lamentation. The third video below states, "The Coventry Carol depicts Mary's lament over the impending doom of her infant son, Jesus, in the wake of King Herod's order that all infant boys in Bethlehem be put to death."

Most of the settings below use the same tune. Guitar, lute and other stringed instruments seem to be fitting for this carol. The second-last setting is a unique composition for choir. Listen for the soprano solo near towards the end of the setting.



Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor Youngling for whom we sing
By, by, lully, lullay?

Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged 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 morn and day
For Thy parting neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.


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