top of page

A brand new setting by Benedict Tanner of What Child Is This? in the style of a Bach chorale. Hear it beautifully sung by the Temple Consort here:


Benedict Tanner recently won runner-up prize in the David Willcocks Trust/Choir Schools' Association Composition Competition (Under 14 category) with his setting of Those who wait for the Lord (also distributed by Fullscore publishing). A former St Paul's Cathedral Chorister, Benedict is currently a music scholar at Rugby School, where he studies violin, viola, piano and organ. He says: “I enjoyed my time at St Paul’s, and was fortunate to sing for the Queen’s 90th Birthday service and to tour America with the Choir. I loved singing services every day in the Cathedral, and learnt so much from wonderful musicians such as Andrew Carwood, Simon Johnson, William Fox, and James Orford. I sang a broad repertoire of music from Byrd to Britten, and particularly enjoyed singing music that was specially written for the choir.


It was music like Behold Now Praise The Lord, by Matthew Martin which inspired me to write music of my own. I have composed a variety of different kinds of music, such as a setting of the Christmas text, What Child Is This, and writing music underneath a scene from Wallace and Gromit. I particularly enjoy putting music to text, and it was the opportunity to do this that attracted me to this competition. I’m very grateful to my two academic music teachers over the past couple of years for encouraging me to compose: Mark Kennedy at St Paul’s Cathedral School and Tori Brandwood at Rugby School. What Child Is This? was written as a class music assignment set by Mr Kennedy in December 2019. I have ambitions to be a musician when I am older, and even though I do not know what kind I will be, I suspect that it will involve composition and organ playing.”


Benedict comes from a very musical family: his father, Richard Tanner, was Organist and Director of Music at Blackburn Cathedral from 1998 to 2011, and is now Director of Music at Rugby School, one of the UK's most prestigious and historic independent schools. His mother, Philippa Hyde, is a professional soprano singer, working internationally.


Read more about the annual CSA Composition Competition:


What Child Is This? is a Christmas carol often said to have lyrics taken from a poem called The Manger Throne, written in Great Britain in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix (although today's versions of The Manger Throne do not seem to include them). Dix worked as a marine insurance company manager and had been afflicted by a severe illness that had left him bedridden and severely depressed. Spiritual renewal during his recovery from the illness led him to write several hymns, including the lyrics to this carol.


The context of the carol centres around the Adoration of the Shepherds, who visited Jesus during his Nativity. The questions posed in the lyrics reflect what the shepherds were possibly pondering to themselves when they encountered him, with the rest of the carol providing a response to their questions. The first verse poses a rhetorical question in the first half, with the response coming in the second half. The second verse contains another question that is answered, while the final verse is a universal appeal to everyone urging them 'to accept Christ'. 


It was first published in 1871, in Christmas Carols Old and New, an influential collection of carols published in the United Kingdom and edited by Henry Ramsden Bramley and Sir John Stainer. It is not known with certainty who paired Dix's lyrics with the music from Greensleeves, but the third edition of The Christmas Encyclopedia by William D. Crump and Stories of the Great Christmas Carols both suggest that Stainer (who is said to have been responsible for harmonising the musical setting) may have done so.


Chatterton Dix, who was born in Bristol, England, in 1837 also wrote the lyrics to the hymns Alleluia! Sing to Jesus! and the Epiphany hymn/carol As with Gladness Men of Old (see our Fullscore Publishing arrangement of this Christmas carol). Dix published various volumes of his hymns, such as Hymns of Love and Joy (1861) and Altar Songs: Verses on the Holy Eucharist (1867). A number of his texts were first published in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). He died in Cheddar, Somerset, England, in 1898.


Sources: [List of hymns]


What Child Is This? has been well known for many years with the lyrical and traditional tune of Greensleeves, an old English folk song that can be dated back to 1580:

More recently, Thomas Hewitt Jones's new setting (published in Oxford University Press Carols for Choir 5) has gained much praise.
See it here:

What Child is this who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.


Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Come, have no fear, God's Son is here, 
His love all loves exceeding
Nails, nails and spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me and you.
Hail, hail the Saviour comes,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.


So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
All tongues and people own him,
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let ev'ry heart enthrone him.
Raise, raise your song, your song on high,
While Mary sings a lullaby
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.


What Child Is This? ~ Benedict Tanner

  • Please register your email to access the download file and to receive occasional notifications of future publications. You may unsubscribe at any time from the link at the bottom of any email you receive from Fullscore Publishing. Your instant download link is in the Thank You page of the Checkout process. The same link will be emailed to you and will last for 30 days. After the link expires you may download it again by repeating the original process.

  • 2 pages (4 inc. covers).