Two Mediaeval Carols

Length / year

8' - 1981



Programme note

I wrote these two carols in 1981 in response to a commission from the Cardiff Festival, revising them in 1983 and again in 1992. They are settings of anonymous mediaeval texts (printed below). In the first I have tried to express the contrast between the simplicity and serenity of the new born child and the violent act of birth into a hostile world. In the second I was attracted to the narrative structure with its retelling of the story of the passion using surreal imagery and ambivalent social comment.

i) A little child there is y-born (2')

Eia susanni

A little child there is y-born


And he sprang out of Jesse's thorn

To save us all that were forlorn

Now Jesus is the child-es name

And Mary mild she is his dame

And so our sorrow is turned to game

It fell upon the high midnight

The stars they shone both fair and bright

The angels sang with all their might


ii) All under the leaves of life (6')

All under the leaves of life

I met with virgins seven

And one of them was Mary mild

Our Lord's mother from heaven

"O what are you seeking you fair maids

All under the leaves of life?

Come tell me what seek you

All under the leaves of life?"

"We're seeking for no leaves, Thomas

But for a friend of thine"

"We're seeking for sweet Jesus Christ

to be our guide and thine"

"Go you down to yonder town

and sit in the gallery

There you'll find sweet Jesus Christ

Nailed to a big yew tree"

So down they went to yonder town

As far as foot could fall

and many a grievous bitter tear

From the virgins' eyes did fall

"O Peace, mother

Your weeping doth me grieve

O I must suffer this" he said

"For Adam and for Eve"

"O how can I my weeping leave,

or my sorrows undergo

Whilst I do see my own son die

When sons I have no mo' "

Then he laid his head on his right shoulder

seeing death it struck him nigh

"The holy ghost be with your soul,

I die, mother dear, I die"

O the rose, the gentle rose

and the fennel that grows so green

God give us grace in every place

to pray for our king and queen

Furthermore for our enemies

all our prayers they should be strong

Amen! Good Lord! Your charity is

the ending of my song