Richard Lambert Music

The Holly and the Ivy (Op.48 No.4)

A new setting of the traditional carol for SATB choir and piano (also arranged for SSA and piano)

This is a new version of the traditional carol, and would suit a competent four-part choir who wish to ring the changes in their annual carol service or concert.

Commencing in G minor, in a lively 6/8 modal style, the five verses are given to the different voice parts in turn – Soprano (v1), Tenor (v2), Alto (v3), Bass (v4); the prevailing mood of each verse-setting reflecting the words. Each verse is interpolated by a homophonic refrain, “The rising of the sun...”.

The fifth verse, sung by the full choir, paints the words poignantly, using a single instance of 5/8 time to highlight the holly bark being “as bitter as any gall”. This leads to a slower, softer setting of the line “and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ, for to redeem us all”. The contemplative mood here is intended to draw attention to these words, and not deprive them of any rejoicing. An abrupt rise to A minor brings a lively return of the opening verse, shared this time by Soprano and Tenor.

The final refrain, with a busier piano part this time, confirms the triumphant mood. It is extended into a fortissimo augmentation of “sweet singing in the choir”, before the piece closes quietly with an even softer restatement of “and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ, for to redeem us all”.

The Holly and the Ivy has also been arranged for female voice choir (SSA) with choir solos and piano (Op.48 No.4a).


I very much enjoyed listening to it. Noticeable with this is the word setting which dictates the contrast between the jolly repeated chorus sections in 6/8 and the more sombre verses in 4/4 which are all different. And then a proper coda.

It's all very singable and the verses, of course, have the option of being sung by SATB soloists which would make the piece easier and quicker to learn by more average choirs.

I think this is light and accessible which Christmas carols probably need to be. Another winner I reckon!

Malcolm Crane


This recording of The Holly and the Ivy was produced using computer software called Sibelius: it is not a live recording.


You can view and purchase the score of The Holly and the Ivy from Score Exchange.

If you wish to listen to the piece on that website, select the ‘MP3 file’ link instead of playing the embedded score for better audio quality.

Like this? Try these