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We are proud to present Christma·S - this year featuring Paul Hillier's collection of carols from the old and the new worlds.

These carol arrangements (together with a few original compositions) were made bit by bit over the past twenty years and first performed by whichever group I was working with at the time. Those groups have included Theatre of Voices, in both its Californian and now Scandinavian incarnations; the Pro Arte Singers of the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, Bloomington; Ars Nova Copenhagen; and most recently the National Chamber Choir of Ireland. I am indebted to all the singers involved, who thus unwittingly helped me prepare this collection, and equally to Robina Young and Brad Michel, who produced and engineered the four Christmas CDs I have made for Harmonia Mundi USA on which all the arrangements have appeared*.

This then is a personal collection of all those carols that it has interested me to arrange for performance. There has been no plan behind the choice of pieces beyond a wish to provide variety and to represent both the Old and New Worlds. My approach all along has been to try and leave each carol musically intact inside its own tradition, and yet feel free to invent my own sense of where that tradition leads when writing for modern singers. Most of the carols conform to no particular definition of the word ‘carol’ beyond the convenient notion that carols are what people like to sing when they go carol singing, or like to hear when they go to a carol service. There is a core repertoire of such pieces, often of very miscellaneous ancestry, which everyone recognizes as being ‘traditional’. In fact some of the most familiar carols are not as old as we might think. Songs such as The Holly and the Ivy and Ding! Dong! Merrily on high may already feel like grey-bearded and hoary relics, but they are little more than a century old, though they incorporate elements that are much older. 

Carols from the Old and New Worlds is being issued in two separate parts. The second part will appear after a couple more Christmases and will focus primarily on the ‘New World’ of North America. This first part focuses on Europe, particularly the Alpine region where Germany and Italy meet Switzerland; most of the remaining pieces are English.

Paul Hillier, Copenhagen, July 2013.

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