Once in Royal David's City sung by the King's College Cambridge Choir.
On the Third Sunday of Lent we might as well go all Anglican High Church. The annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College Chapel Cambridge has been a Christmas tradition in England since 1919 with Dr. Arthur Henry Mann’s arrangement of Once in Royal David’s City as the Processional hymn. The pageantry and ritual is a staple of the Holiday season on the telly by the BBC and frequently aired on Public Television in America.
Cecil Frances Alexander wrote the original poem and published it in her Hymns for Little Children.
Once in Royal David's City was poem by Cecil Frances Alexander first published in 1848 in her hymnbook Hymns for Little Children. A year later, the English organist Henry John Gauntlett set it to music. Alexander's husband was William Alexander and upon his consecration she became the Bishop's wife in 1867. She is also remembered for her hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful.
Arthur Henry Mann was the long-time director of music at King's College Chapel from 1876 until 1929 and creator of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. His arrangements are still used in the annual performances.
Arthur Henry Mann, creator and arranger of the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in his King's Chapel Cambridge study.
In his arrangement, the first verse is sung a cappella by a boy chorister of the choir as a solo. The second verse is sung by the choir, and the congregation joins in the third verse. According to tradition the soloist is chosen on the day of the performance, when the choirmaster—currently Stephen Cleobury—decides whose voice is the strongest on the day right before the broadcast.
The carol was the first recording that the King’s College Choir under Boris Ord made for EMI in 1948. Among others who have recorded it are Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Chieftains, Daniel O’Donnell, The Seekers, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Petula Clark, Jethro Tull, Sinéad O’Connor and Sufjan Stevens, by the Irish group Celtic Woman on their album Voices of Angels.
The performance featured today was broadcast in 2016.