Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols

Listen to Beyond Belief on BBC Radio 4 which was broadcast on Monday 20 December 2021.

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In the spring of 1942, Benjamin Britten and his partner Peter Pears left the United States on board a Swedish cargo ship to cross the perilous waters of the North Atlantic. On a stopover in Nova Scotia, Britten picked up a book of medieval poems and whilst the ship navigated ferocious winds and dodged U boats, he used some of them in the first draft of what was to become ‘A Ceremony of Carols’. From the confines of a miserable and airless cabin he created a work of such joy and energy that it has become a Christmas staple for the high clear voices of boy trebles – or women’s choir – and harp. To discuss the enduring appeal of the music and the spiritual meaning of ‘A Ceremony of Carols’, Ernie Rea is joined by a distinguished trio of musicians and our very own rector Lucy Winkett.