Robert Pearsall’s In dulci jubilo is a choral arrangement par excellence—indeed, it is perhaps the archetype for the countless subsequent arrangements of traditional melodies for SATB choir. Pearsall’s carol can be heard as an ‘Englishing’ (or Anglican-ization?) of a foreign tradition, not dissimilar perhaps to the adoption of German Christmas traditions such as the Christmas Tree into English life in the mid-nineteenth century. (Victoria and Albert married in 1840, four years after Pearsall wrote his setting.) The original tune, which in the hands of Praetorius or Scheidt dances boisterously, is rendered soft-edged and quietly grand by Pearsall’s smooth harmony and effortless part-writing. In the later verses, Pearsall’s counterpoint often seizes the foreground from the original melody; more than simply a straightforward harmonization, this is almost a carol-fantasia.
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