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Once in Royal David’s City

(Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander/Henry John Gautlett)

This Christmas carol was written in the 1840s as a poem for children about Bethlehem, possibly during Cecil Alexander’s travels throughout Ireland with her husband who was an Anglican bishop.  It was published in her 1848 publication Hymns for Little Children and discovered in there by Henry Gauntlett who set the words to music.  The profits made from this book would later be given by her to help support handicapped children in Northern Ireland.

The carol is played during the procession in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols that is held every Christmas Eve at King’s College, Cambridge, England, and shares the honour of being the only other carol to be performed there annually alongside “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”.  In this festival it is sung with the first verse being performed by a soloist, the second by the choir and the third by the congregations.

Recordings
The Bach Choir and members of The Philip Jones Brass Ensemble
London 417 898-2 (CD: O Come All Ye Faithful)
Organ – John Scott
Conductor – Sir David Willcocks

Choir of Keble College
Priory PRCD 708 (CD: The Complete New English Hymnal, Vol. 8)
Conductor  Gavin Plumley
Organ –  Mark Laflin

Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
EMI 66241 (CD: Christmas Carols from Kings College, Cambridge)
Conductor – Sir David Willcocks

Choir of St. Thomas Church
Pro Organo 7200 (CD: Christmas on Fifth Avenue)

Clare College Singers and Orchestra
EMI 69950 (CD: Carols from Clare)
Conductor – John Rutter

Arturo Delmoni and Nina Bodnar
JMR 18 (CD: A String Quartet Christmas, Volume 2)
Violin – Arturo Delmoni
Violin – Nina Bodnar

Musicians of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
North Star NS0035 (CD: And The Angels Sing)

Sources:

  1. http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/once_in_royal_davids_city.htm
  2. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=4061