Corpus Christi Carol
Corpus Christi Carol is a Middle or Early Modern English hymn (or carol), first found by an apprentice grocer named Richard Hill in a manuscript written around 1504. The original writer of the carol remains anonymous. The earliest surviving record of the piece preserves only the lyrics and is untitled. It has survived in altered form in the folk tradition as the Christmas carol Down In Yon Forest.
The structure of the carol is six stanzas, each with rhyming couplets. The tense changes in the fourth stanza from past to present continuous.
One hypothesis about the meaning of the carol is that it is concerned with the legend of the Holy Grail. In Arthurian traditions of the Grail story, the Fisher King is the knight who is the Grail's protector, and whose legs are perpetually wounded. When he is wounded his kingdom suffers and becomes a wasteland. This would explain the reference to "an orchard brown".
Peter Warlock used the carol in composition and applied it to those that died at war in 1919.
John Gerrish wrote an arrangement for it in 1957, titled "The Falcon."
Singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley included his interpretation of Britten's work on his debut 1994 album, Grace. About his version Buckley said, "The 'Carol' is a fairytale about a falcon who takes the beloved of the singer to an orchard. The singer goes looking for her and arrives at a chamber where his beloved lies next to a bleeding knight and a tomb with Christ's body in it."
Scottish singer-songwriter Archie Fisher performs a version of this song, 'Looly, Looly', on his album 'Will Ye Gang, Love' (1994)
It has been set for unaccompanied choir by Norwegian composer Trond Kverno in 1995.
John Fleagle recorded a version set to a Breton tune as “The Hern” in his album World's Bliss: Medieval Songs of Love and Death.
The carol is featured in The Choirboys's album, The Choirboys, released in 2005.
French singer and harpist Cécile Corbel also performed a version of this carol on her third album, Songbook Vol.2, released in 2008.
English guitarist Jeff Beck performs his interpretation on his 2010 album, Emotion & Commotion. In the album liner notes, Beck states that Jeff Buckley inspired his cover of this piece: "When I heard Jeff Buckley's album, the simplicity and the beauty of the way he sounded amazed me."
The Britten setting is featured in Voces8's album, "Eventide", released in 2014.
|Original Middle English lyrics||Modern English gloss|
He bare hym vp, he bare hym down,
He bore him up, he bore him down,
- Independent article
- Jeff Buckley FAQ
- (2010) Album notes for Emotion & Commotion by Jeff Beck [booklet]. Rhino Records (523695).
- Ed. Dyboski, Roman, PhD. Songs, Carols, and other Miscellaneous Poems, from the Balliol MS. 354, Richard Hill’s Commonplace-Book. 1907.