This article was written for the April 2022 issue of our parish magazine. Here it is for you again:
The book “100 Carols for Choirs” is a staple resource for just about every UK choir, typically being brought out for rehearsals sometime in October, and packed away again in January. Carols are not just for Christmas though, and to be fair, this book does not suggest that anywhere in its text. Indeed, a scroll down the contents list will show carols for Advent, Epiphany and Easter as well as Christmas. “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” is commonly sung around Christmas time, although I think it sit well at Easter too.
The version in 100 CC is unaccompanied and written for upper voices – soprano 1&2 and alto 1&2. It is a great sadness that I’ll never be able to sing the melody: it is set for a solo soprano, and it goes too high for me.
The text is a poem, written in 1761 by Rev Richard Hutchins:
The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green;
The trees of nature fruitless be,
Compared with Christ the Apple Tree.
His beauty doth all things excel,
By faith I know but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see,
In Jesus Christ the Appletree.
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought;
I missed of all but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the Appletree.
I’m weary with my former toil –
Here I will sit and rest awhile,
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the Appletree.
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the Appletree.
It is thought that likening Jesus to an apple tree is drawn from Song of Solomon 2:3, and from Jesus’ own description of himself as a tree of life (Luke 13:18-19). “The Song of the Tree of Life” (Vaughan Williams, based on Revelation 22) is also relevant here (see the April 2021 edition of this magazine).
It’s probably around 15 years since this carol was first introduced to the ladies of St Margaret’s choir, at the request of one of the members. I have loved it ever since.
Maggie’s Music Makers have not yet sung this carol – an omission that needs to be put right! Listen out for it next year. Meanwhile, here’s a rather lovely recording by Seraphic Fire, who finish by singing the first verse in canon, in the round, surrounding their congregation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SixnHKwyrjI