Episode 6: Gauntlett's 'Once in Royal David’s City'

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Once in Royal David’s City by Henry John Gauntlett
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
directed by David Willcocks
Available on ArkivMusic

It’s one of the most famous annual events of the holiday season, but it started as a way to keep men out of taverns on Christmas Eve. The year: 1880. The place: Cornwall, England. A bishop there came up an idea for a special late-evening church service on December 24, to keep men from just going out to drink that night.

Twenty-eight years later, the sequence of music and scripture readings in that service was adopted by the dean of King’s College, Cambridge, for use in the chapel there, and thus was born the famous Christmas Eve service known as the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. For nearly a century, that service has begun with single boy chorister singing the carol, “Once in Royal David’s City,” and since 1928, it’s been broadcast on the radio. This recording features the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, directed by David Willcocks.

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  • This recording is provided courtesy of Warner Classics/Erato