Song Analysis

Candle : Coventry Carol

Tuesday 16 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

"Candle: Coventry Carol" from Tori’s seasonal record Midwinter Graces is based on the traditional 16th century carol "Coventry Carol," which was performed in Coventry as part of the English Mystery Play The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. It is the only carol that has survived from this play.

The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors is believed to have been played each year as part of the spring religious festival Corpus Christi along other plays illustrating Bible stories. At this time, the Catholic Church still denied Bibles in English, so these plays allowed the peasants and other illeterate people to learn more about the Bible. Most of the Mystery Cycles were suppressed during the Reformation and are unavailable to us and "Coventry Carol" is one of the few documents that survived.

The song tells the Christmas story from chapter two 16-18 in the Gospel of Matthew, which refers to the Massacre of the Innocents: Herod the Great, King of Judea, orders the execution of all male infants in Bethlehem after the Magi informed him of the birth of Jesus because he fears he will lose his throne to the King of the Jews.

The Massacre of the Innocents is described as the fullfilment of an old prophecy made by Jeremiah in the Old Testament: "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children." The carol depicts the scene very accurately as it is sung by the mother for her murdered child.

As Tori was embracing the idea of the rebirth of life through the rebirth of the sun in darkness (winter solstice) in the album, she was interested to include the traditional carol because it expressed the opposite: the death of children and so, the death of light. While the Eastern sun shines brightly in "Star of Wonder," all that remains in Tori’s version is the flickering flame of a candle. The presence of the candle in the lyrics is an inclusion of Tori, who wrote the whole introduction to the song. The rest of the track is a faithful rendition of the oldest known transcription of the lyrics by Robert Croo, which is dated from 1534.

Tori’s song retained the medieval and dark ambience of the traditional carol. ”You might cock your head and say ‘That’s not very Christmas-y,’” she reckoned in an interview for “And it’s not to people at this time. But see, what I’m trying to say is people have been celebrating this season and telling stories of this time for thousands and thousands of years. And I’m trying to include the different types of stories that might be told.”

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