Tune of the Day: The Coventry Carol
This Christmas carol dates from the 16th Century. It was originally performed in the English city of Coventry as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, which depicted the Christmas story as described in the Gospel of Matthew. The Coventry Carol, which is the only carol that has survived from this play, refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod orders all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed. That's why the lyrics of this haunting carol represent a mother's lament for her doomed child.
The carol is notable as a well-known example of a Picardy third (aka tierce de Picardie). This harmonic device consists in using a major chord of the tonic to conclude a minor-mode phrase. In other words, despite this tune being in G minor, it ends on a G major chord, with a B-natural instead of a B-flat.
This carol is traditionally sung a cappella, that is, without instrumental accompaniment. Thus, it makes a perfect piece for a flute ensemble.