Merrily on High – the history of the English Christmas carol

Peter Medhurst traces the progress of the English Christmas carol through seven centuries of continuous development and explores the many fascinating stories that lie behind our popular seasonal songs.

Carols discussed include : Angelus ad virginem, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, The First Nowell, I Saw Three Ships, While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night, Christians Awake, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, Adeste fideles, In the Bleak Midwinter


We Three Kings – music, art, poetry & legends inspired by the Magi

The Bible gives us very little information about the wise men who came from the East bearing Christ the famous gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  All reference to them is housed in the opening chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel and what information is given is surrounded by ambiguity and approximation.  However, by contrast, there is no shortage of music, poetry and art that has been inspired by these men, and this lecture examines the impact of the Three Kings on the culture of later generations.

Music performed includes: The Three Kings – Cornelius, The People that Walked in Darkness from Messiah – Handel, The Coventry Carol – Traditional, I Saw Three Ships – Traditional, Where is He that is Born King of the Jews? from Christus – F Mendelssohn


The Twelve Days of Christmas

The celebration of the period following Christmas can be traced back several millennia, and to at least two cultures – neither of them Christian.  One of them is the southern Roman feast of Kalends on the 1st January, and the other, the northern Nordic festivals of Yuletide surrounding the celebrations of the Winter solstice.  However, it was Pope Julius I who decided to subvert the gluttony, drunkenness and sun worship to Christian purpose, and by choosing the 25th December to celebrate the birth of Christ, he neatly bridged these cultures and paved the way for future Christmas festivities.  And so it is that many of our modern Christmas customs and carols bear references to traditions that have nothing to do with the birth of Christ.

Nonetheless, each year, Christ’s birthday on 25th December signifies the beginning of twelve festive days of celebrations and music making.  In this lecture-recital Peter Medhurst explores the wealth of Christmas music, traditions and curious legends that are connected with them.

Music performed includes: Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly, The Coventry Carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, The Wassail Song, The Three Kings – Cornelius


That Pretty German Toy – musings on the Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree is arguably the most iconic aspect of our midwinter celebrations, yet how much do we actually know about its origins and history.  Peter Medhurst delves into the past – as far back as the Book of Genesis – in order to tell the story of this remarkable ‘German toy’, as Dickens described it.

Music performed includes: Adam lay ybounden, Jesus Christ the Apple Tree – Elizabeth Postern, O Tannenbaum, O Little Town of Bethlehem, O Holy Night –  Adolphe Adam