I like the carols whose names bear no relation to their words. I also like carols which come in at least two versions. Happily, the Coventry Carol is both, the name apparently coming from the song’s origins as part of a 16th-Century mystery play that was traditionally performed in and around Coventry, and here’s a story to send a shiver down your spine: it only gained popularity as a Christmas carol when, in 1940, shortly after the city was bombed, the BBC broadcast a performance of it from the ruins of the cathedral.
But you were already shivering, if you know this carol, because it’s what the mothers of newborn children sing as they try to protect them from Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents, so it is not just haunting but sinister, and thus best served by its original tune, which is also both of those things, although the newer setting by Kenneth Leighton is beautiful, and since the King’s Choir have obliged us by performing them both, and since it’s Saturday and you probably have time to listen to them both, here they both are. It gets sunnier, but only slightly, tomorrow.
Kenneth Leighton setting (the comments on this end up involving the featured soloist, and are worth reading if you have even more time to spare):