Carol Trilogy for women’s choir and piano

  • Arranger: Laura Hawley 
  • Publisher: Will be published shortly by Cypress Choral Music. Meanwhile, please contact Laura.
  • Canadian Composition: Yes
  • Duration: 13:00

Program Notes:

Commissioned by Elektra Women’s Choir with assistance from the Diane Loomer Commissioning Fund for Elektra Women’s Choir

Conductor Notes:

SSAA with divisi and piano. Individual movement timings are:
Noel Bourguignon: 5:00
In dulci jubilo 3:10
The Wexford Carol 4:45
For a total without applause between movements of about 13 minutes.

It’s unusual for me to place a commissioned work at the top of a concert, but Laura Hawley’s stunning and imaginative suite takes us to some familiar places in a concert which includes, as its centrepiece, Benjamin Britten’s 25-minute work, A Ceremony of Carols- the latter not familiar seasonal music to most of our listeners.

The musical source material that Laura Hawley used for the Carol Trilogy was three sacred Christmas carols from different parts of the world. In the commissioning process, she suggested specific carols and I signed off on the list before she started work. I specified that I wanted the arrangements to include piano, because I knew, with the Britten, that our wonderful accompanist, Stephen Smith, would not have a lot to do in this concert otherwise! I also knew that Laura is a pianist and would, therefore, write him something interesting to play. Laura placed the three we chose in a particular sequence to draw the listener into the music in an intentional way.

Noël Bourguignon
As soon as we had this piece in hand, we had to tackle how to pronounce its very unusual language. By 1700, modern French was pretty much in place. Through our friend and language specialist, Elizabeth Brodovitch, I learned more about de La Monnoye (who also wrote the French carol Patapan). Turns out he was a very well-educated man who chose to write occasionally in a self-created “patois” dialect to give his poems a more earthy, rustic, and folk- like sound. So, when you hear it, Burgundian Carol’s language will be unlike any French you have heard! Rather than modernize the pronunciation, we decided to make the assumption that his spellings were part of the intended flavour of the work, and we took them literally as pronunciation guides. My thanks to Elizabeth for this research and for her meticulous written and spoken guides which helped us get on top of this fascinating aspect of this carol!

In dulci jubilo is one of the most popular macaronic carols today, meaning its sung text incorporates more than one language. On the left column above, the Latin lines are in italics. The rest is German. In addition to the sheer beauty and energy of this melody, we have the fun of switching back and forth. I’ve never studied Latin, but through experiences in choral music, have had many decades of “decoding” and finding links to English words. For example “nova” means “new”. Look out if you are playing word games with me – I have a novice’s (pun intended) incomplete grasp of many languages and their common roots and am a dangerously good guesser!

Composer / Arranger Notes:

Noël Bourguignon
Many years ago, my mother shared with me a carol in the Reader’s Digest Merry Christmas Songbook that neither of us had heard before and that she loved. That carol was the “Burgundian Carol,” and I hoped at the time that some day I would set it for choir. The carol appears in English in that songbook, but the book also explains that the original text was French, written by Bernard de La Monnoye and translated to English by Oscar Brand. For many years, I searched for the original text, but to no avail; the best I’d been able to find was a book of

French carols that contained the text only, with adaptations from the old French to modern French. Over ten years later, I mentioned my quest to a friend of mine, who became intrigued and who was able to find a scan online of the original music with the first verse of text attached to it!

The mood of La Monnoye’s text and music, alongside the long search for the elusive original, gave me a great sense of mysticism surrounding this carol. I decided to use the original old French text, which has a unique and rustic sound to it very different from modern French.

My setting opens with shimmering chords that express the magic of a manger scene with the animals nearby on bended knee worshiping a tiny baby and keeping the child warm. Around this scene I also imagine the brightness of the Christmas star, and the fluttering of angel wings; and these make appearances in the music as well. For me, the story of Christmas night has so many different emotions in it; the quiet awe of the manger, the exultation of angels, the reverence of the animals in the stable, the great change that had arrived on earth and the divine and inexplicable love that came with it. All of these things were in my mind in setting the Noël Bourguignon.

In dulci jubilo
This carol has captured my imagination since I first heard the story of how it came to be. According to folklore, the German mystic Heinrich Seuse penned it after having been led by the hand of an angel into a whole group of angels, who sang this carol as they drew him into a heavenly dance of worship with them.
This setting of In dulci jubilo begins with the sound of angel wings in mind, and the piano is the first to introduce the tune, with the altos responding in harmony. In the introductory section, I imagine the dazzling scene of many angels all singing together and the dizzying feeling of being drawn into their song and dance, and this jubilant feeling carries through the whole setting of this bright carol in different ways. Just as the piece begins with angels, the fluttering wings return at the end as the jubilantly mystical experience unwinds and vanishes with wings fluttering off into the night.

Wexford Carol
The Wexford Carol has been my favourite Christmas carol since I first heard the gorgeous King’s Singers recording of it as a child, and felt, for perhaps the first time with awareness, my facial muscles spontaneously smile by themselves in reaction to so much beauty. Because I have loved this carol so much, it’s taken a long time to decide to try to create my own arrangement. In the opening verse of this setting, the tune of the carol isn’t placed directly in the foreground of the soundscape as it usually would be. Rather, the first verse is more of a meditation, with a pensive piano introduction followed by expressive blossoming harmonies, and a change in meter that stretches the tune out longer than the original note values. After that, in verse two, we revel in the opportunity to sing this gorgeous carol as it is, in unison. This opens up in the third verse with a double-descant and with the piano as an equal voice with its own independent phrase lengths and tolling bells. The ending of the Wexford Carol brings Carol Trilogy to a close with thoughts ahead to the fulfillment of Christ’s coming to earth that Christmas night, which was indeed to “end all strife.”


This lists any discs, concerts or collections where this piece is included.



I. Noel Bourguignon

1701, French

1. Lor qu’an lai saizon qu’ai jaule,
Au monde Jésu-Chri vin,
L’àne et le beu l’échaufin
De lo sôfle dan l’Etaule…
Que d’àne et de beu je sai,
Dan ce royaume de Gaule,
Que d’àne et de beu je sai
Qui n’an airein pa tan fai!

2. On di que cé pôvre bête
N’ure pas vu le Pôpon,
Qu’elle se mire ai genon,
Humbleman boissan lai téte…
Que d’àne et de beu je sai,
Qui po tô se fon de féte,
Que d’àne et de beu je sai
Qui n’an airein pa tan fai!

3. Ma le pu beà de l’histoire,
Ce fu que l’àne et le beu
Ansin passire tô deu
Lai neù san maingé ni boire…
Que d’àne et de beu je sai,
Couvar de pane et de moire,
Que d’àne et de beu je sai
Qui n’an airein pa tan fai!

Bernard de La Monnoye

I. Burgundian Carol (English translation)1701, French

1. The winter season of the year
When to this world our Lord was born,
The ox and donkey, so they say,
Did keep His holy presence warm.
How many oxen and donkeys now,
If they were there when first He came,
How many oxen and donkeys you know,
At such a time would do the same?

2. As soon as to these humble beasts
Appeared our Lord so mild and sweet,
With joy they knelt before His Grace,
And gently kissed His tiny feet.
If we, like oxen and donkeys then,
In spite of all the things we’ve heard,
Would be like oxen and donkeys then,
We’d hear the truth, believe His word.

3. And on that night it has been told
These humble beasts so rough and rude,
Throughout the night of holy birth,
Drank no water, ate no food.
How many oxen and donkeys now,
Dressed in ermine, silk and such,
How many oxen and donkeys you know,
At such a time would do as much?

English lyrics by Oscar Brand
Source: Reader’s Digest Christmas Songbook

II. In dulci jubilo

14th-century German

1. In dulci jubilo, nun singet und seid froh!
Unsers Herzens Wonne leit in praesepio,
Und leuchtet als die Sonne matris in gremio
Alpha es et O!

2. O Jesu parvule, Nach dir ist mir so weh.
Tröst mir mein Gemüte, O Puer optime;
Durch alle deine Güte, O Princeps Gloriae,
Trahe me post te!

3. O Patris caritas! O Nati lenitas!
Wir wärn all’ verloren Per nostra criminal;
So hat er uns erworben Coelorum gaudia;
Eia, warn wir da!

4. Ubi sunt gaudia? Nirgends mehr denn da,
Da die Engel singen Nova cantica,
Und die Schellen klingen In Regis curia;
Eia, warn wir da!

vv. 1, 2, 4 fourteenth-century
=v. 3 Valentin Triller (d. 1573) (Praetorius, 1607)


II. In dulci jubilo (English translation) 14th-century German

1. With sweet jubilation, Let songs and gladness flow!
All our joy reclineth in a manger
And like the sun he shineth in [your] mother’s lap
You are Alpha and Omega!

2. O infant Jesus, I yearn for thee always!
Comfort me and stay me, O best of boys
By thy great love I pray thee, O Prince of Glory,
Draw me after you [to heaven]!

3. O love of the Father! O mercy of the son!
Condemned we had remained Through our sins
But he for us hath gained The joys of heaven
In paradise afar,
Where joys unending are.


4. Where are joys(?)
More deep than heaven’s are?In heaven are angels singing New songs
In heaven the bells are ringing In the courts of the King
O that we were there!

Translation from source editors
Source: “The shorter New Oxford Book of Carols” ed. Keyte, Parrott, & Bartlett

III. Wexford Carol

12th-century English and Irish

1. Good people all, this Christmastime,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending his beloved Son.

With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas Day;
In Bethlehem upon that morn
There was a blessed Messiah born.

2. Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God’s angels did appear,
Which put the shepherds in great fear.

‘Prepare and go’, the angels said, ‘To Bethlehem, be not afraid;
For there you’ll find, this happy morn,
A princely babe, sweet Jesus born,’

3. With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the babe to find,
And as God’s angel had foretold,
They did our Saviour Christ behold.

Within a manger he was laid,
And by his side the virgin maid,
Attending on the Lord of life,
Who came on earth to end all strife.

English and Irish traditional
Source: “The Oxford Book of Carols” Ed. Dearmer, Vaughan Williams, Shaw