Much as artists throughout the ages have been inspired to paint the Madonna and Child, composers have been similarly inspired to write songs depicting Jesus on Mary’s knee. Many of these include a lullaby chorus, and I think that these are some of the most beautiful carols out there (if, perhaps, more Christmas than Advent, but Christmas is only ten days away now, so I think that’s permitted!). Theme 4 for this Advent, is, therefore, all the lullys and lullas I can get my hands on.
Given that theme, there can be no question of where to start, at least for me. I conduct a little choir at work, and a few years ago I taught them ‘I saw a maiden’, mostly because I think it has the most beautiful alto line of any carol, but also because I love lines like ‘there was mickle melody at that childes birth’. My choir was a little leery of all the time signature changes at first, but it has quickly become one of our favourites, particularly among the alto section (who need to be reminded at every performance not to joyously bellow the lullay section – I mean, yes, it’s a fantastic line, but it’s supposed to be a *lullaby*).
This recording is particularly irresistible to me, because not only is it impeccably sung, but you can also see that the altos are every bit as excited about that lullay section as mine are – look for the big grin on the dark-haired alto’s face at the start of every chorus!
For another take on this text, here is a recording of the Guildford Cathedral Choir singing Sloane’s 1927 setting of the same lyrics.