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A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

A traditional celebration of Christmas with the annual Carol Service from King's College Cambridge.

For many around the world, A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, live from the candlelit Chapel of King's College, Cambridge, marks the beginning of Christmas. First heard on Christmas Eve 1918, it was devised by the Dean of King's Eric Milner-White who, only a few months earlier, had served as an army chaplain. He based the Festival around nine Bible readings interspersed with carols old and new. They are sung by the world-famous chapel choir who also lead the congregation in traditional Christmas hymns. It was first broadcast by the BBC in 1928, with world-wide transmissions beginning in 1932.

A specially-written carol by the composer Judith Weir will be premiered during the Festival this year. A new carol has been commissioned for the Christmas Eve service every year since 1983, so this new work entitled ‘O Mercy Divine’ for choir and cello will be the 36th such carol commissioned by King’s College. Judith Weir is an alumna and honorary fellow of King’s who currently holds the post of UK's Master of the Queen’s Music. The new carol series represents part of a long-standing contribution by the College to contemporary choral writing.

The live broadcast from the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge marks the Festival’s Centenary year.

Hymn: Once in Royal David's City (desc. Cleobury)*
Bidding Prayer read by the Dean
Up! good Christen folk (Piae Cantiones)*
First lesson: Genesis 3 vv 8-19 read by a Chorister
Adam lay ybounden (Ord)
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree (Poston)
Second lesson: Genesis 22 vv 15-18 read by a Choral Scholar
In dulci jubilo (arr. de Pearsall)*
I saw three ships (arr. Simon Preston)
Third lesson: Isaiah 9 vv 2, 6-7 read by a representative of Eton College
Nowell sing we now all and some (Medieval)
Unto us is born a Son (arr. Willcocks)*
Fourth lesson: Isaiah 11 vv 1-3a, 4a, 6-9 read by a Fellow
A spotless rose (Howells)
The Lamb (Tavener)
Fifth lesson: Luke 1 vv 26-38 read by the Master over the Choristers
Joys seven (arr. Cleobury)
Bogoróditse Dyévo (Arvo Pärt)
Sixth lesson: Luke 2 vv 1-7 read by the Mayor of Cambridge
What sweeter music? (John Rutter)
Stille Nacht (arr.Ledger)
Seventh lesson: Luke 2 vv 8-16 read by the Director of Music
In the bleak midwinter (Darke)
While shepherds watched (desc. Cleobury)*
Eighth lesson: Matthew 2 vv 1-12 read by the Vice-Provost
O mercy divine (Judith Weir) (King’s College Commission 2018)
Sir Christèmas (Mathias)
Ninth lesson: John 1 vv 1-14 read by the Provost
O come, all ye faithful (arr. Willcocks)*
Collect and Blessing
Hark! The herald angels sing (desc. Cleobury)*

Organ voluntaries:
In dulci jubilo (BWV 729) (Bach)
Pièces de Fantaisie en quatre suites, Livre II op. 53: Toccata (Vierne) [broadcast on Radio 3 on Christmas Day only]

Director of Music: Stephen Cleobury
Organ scholar: Henry Websdale
Cellist: Guy Johnston

Produced by Tim Allen for BBC World Service

(Photo: Kings College Choir. Credit: King's College, Cambridge)

1 hour, 30 minutes

Last on

Christmas Day 2018 02:32GMT


  • Christmas Eve 2018 15:00GMT
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  • Christmas Day 2018 02:32GMT