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March of the Kings (La Marche Des Rois Mages)

(Anonymous 13th Century from Provence, France/Domergue Joseph-Francois)

The soldiers returning from The Crusades and bringing stories back with them from the Holy Land possibly influenced this Christmas carol that originated in the Middle Ages in Provence, France.  The stories would have included the story of the birth of Jesus and the three kings who came from afar to deliver him gifts.  The kings were likened to the local heroes such as the dukes who would fight for the Pope and their religious beliefs.  It is thought that the tune could even be older than 13th century and may have existed long before the lyrics were added.  The original lyrics were more military sounding and the music is described as having a strong and determined sense about it, while referring to the Crusades indirectly, but the second version, which possibly appeared after the Renaissance, concentrates far more on the Christmas story itself and the Three Kings and is said to have softened over time.

The carol was taken by the composer Georges Bizet and adapted for his incidental music for the play L’Arlesienne by Alphonse Daudet, where it would take on the guise of a farandole.  The American composer Leroy Anderson would also include it in his Suite of Carols for Brass Choir.

Leroy Anderson and His Orchestra recordings
Decca B0003552-02 (CD: A Leroy Anderson Christmas)

Robert Shaw Chorale recordings
RCA 6429 – 2 – RG (CD: A Festival of Carols)
(Arrangers – Robert Shaw/Alice Parker)