In the Bleak Midwinter

Last updated

Christina Rossetti, portrait by her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Christina Rossetti 3.jpg
Christina Rossetti, portrait by her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

"In the Bleak Midwinter" is a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti, commonly performed as a Christmas carol. The poem was published, under the title "A Christmas Carol", in the January 1872 issue of Scribner's Monthly, [1] [2] and was first collected in book form in Goblin Market, The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (Macmillan, 1875).

Contents

In 1906, the composer Gustav Holst composed a setting of Rossetti's words (titled "Cranham") in The English Hymnal which is sung throughout the world. [3] An anthem setting by Harold Darke composed in 1909 is also widely performed by choirs, and was named the best Christmas carol in a poll of some of the world's leading choirmasters and choral experts in 2008. [4]

Text


In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom Angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.


Angels and Archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am? —
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part, —
Yet what I can I give Him, —
Give my heart.


As first published in Scribner's Monthly (January 1872) In the bleak midwinter 1872.png
As first published in Scribner's Monthly (January 1872)

Analysis

In verse one, Rossetti describes the physical circumstances of the Incarnation in Bethlehem. In verse two, Rossetti contrasts Christ's first and second coming. The third verse dwells on Christ's birth and describes the simple surroundings, in a humble stable and watched by beasts of burden. Rossetti achieves another contrast in the fourth verse, this time between the incorporeal angels attendant at Christ's birth with Mary's ability to render Jesus physical affection. The final verse shifts the description to a more introspective thought process.

Hymnologist and theologian Ian Bradley has questioned the poem's theology: "Is it right to say that heaven cannot hold God, nor the earth sustain, and what about heaven and earth fleeing away when he comes to reign?" [5]

Settings

The text of this Christmas poem has been set to music many times. Two of the most famous settings were composed by Gustav Holst and Harold Darke in the early 20th century.

Holst

"Cranham", by Gustav Holst Cranham Holst.png
"Cranham", by Gustav Holst
In the Bleak Midwinter

Holst's setting, Cranham, is a hymn tune setting suitable for congregational singing, since the poem is irregular in metre and any setting of it requires a skilful and adaptable tune. The hymn is titled after Cranham, Gloucestershire and was written for the English Hymnal of 1906. [6] [3]

Darke

In the Bleak Midwinter

The Darke setting, was written in 1909 while he was a student at the Royal College of Music. Although melodically similar, it is more advanced; each verse is treated slightly differently, with solos for soprano and tenor (or a group of sopranos and tenors) and a delicate organ accompaniment. [5] This version is favoured by cathedral choirs and is the one usually heard performed on the radio broadcasts of Nine Lessons and Carols by the King's College Choir. Darke served as conductor of the choir during World War II. [7] Darke omits verse four of Rossetti's original, and bowdlerizes Rossetti's "a breastful of milk" to "a heart full of mirth", [8] although later editions reversed this change. Darke also repeats the last line of the final verse. Darke would complain, however, that the popularity of this tune prevented people from performing his other compositions, and rarely performed it outside of Christmas services. [9]

The Darke setting was used in Jacob Collier's rearrangement of the song, [10] which was released on YouTube on 14 December 2016. The rearrangement by Collier features contemporary compositional techniques such as microtonality.

Other settings

Benjamin Britten includes an elaborate five-part setting of the first verse for high voices (combined with the medieval Corpus Christi Carol ) in his work A Boy was Born .

Other settings include those by Robert C L Watson, Bruce Montgomery, Bob Chilcott, Michael John Trotta, [11] Robert Walker, [12] Eric Thiman, who wrote a setting for solo voice and piano, and Leonard Lehrman. [13]

It is quoted throughout the Peaky Blinders TV series. [14] [15] It makes an appearance in The Crown season 1 premiere. [16] [17] Most of the main characters sing the first verse in the Christmas episode of the BBC TV series Ghosts . [18] [19]

Related Research Articles

Christina Rossetti English poet, 1830–1895

Christina Georgina Rossetti was an English poet who wrote romantic, devotional and children's poems, including "Goblin Market" and "Remember". She also wrote the words of two Christmas carols well known in the UK: "In the Bleak Midwinter", later set by Gustav Holst and Harold Darke, and "Love Came Down at Christmas", also set by Darke and other composers. She was a sister of the artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and features in several of his paintings.

Christmas carol Song or hymn on the theme of Christmas

A Christmas carol is a carol on the theme of Christmas, traditionally sung at Christmas itself or during the surrounding Christmas holiday season. The term noel has sometimes been used, especially for carols of French origin. Christmas carols may be regarded as a subset of the broader category of Christmas music.

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

"It Came Upon the Midnight Clear", sometimes rendered as "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", is an 1849 poem and Christmas carol written by Edmund Sears, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts. In 1850, Sears' lyrics were set to "Carol", a tune written for the poem the same year at his request, by Richard Storrs Willis. This pairing remains the most popular in the United States, while in Commonwealth countries, the lyrics are set to "Noel", a later adaptation by Arthur Sullivan from an English melody.

Shushan the Palace: Hymns of Earth is a 2003 album by Jane Siberry.

Harold Darke English composer and organist (1888–1976)

Harold Edwin Darke was an English composer and organist. He is particularly known for his choral compositions, which are an established part of the respertoire of Anglican church music. Darke had a long association with the church of St Michael, Cornhill, in the City of London.

Once in Royal Davids City Song

Once in Royal David's City is a Christmas carol originally written as a poem by Cecil Frances Alexander. The carol was first published in 1848 in her hymnbook Hymns for Little Children. A year later, the English organist Henry John Gauntlett discovered the poem and set it to music.

O Little Town of Bethlehem 19th-century Christmas carol by Phillips Brooks

"O Little Town of Bethlehem" is a Christmas carol. Based on an 1868 text written by Phillips Brooks, the carol is popular on both sides of the Atlantic, but to different tunes: in North America to "St. Louis" by Brooks' collaborator, Lewis Redner; and in the United Kingdom and Ireland to "Forest Green", a tune collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams and first published in the 1906 English Hymnal.

The Corpus Christi Carol or Falcon Carol is a Middle or Early Modern English hymn, first written down by an apprentice grocer named Richard Hill around 1504. The original writer of the carol remains anonymous. The earliest surviving record of the piece preserves only the lyrics and is untitled. It has survived in altered form in the folk tradition as the Christmas carol "Down In Yon Forest". The structure of the carol is six stanzas, each with rhyming couplets. The tense changes in the fourth stanza from past to present continuous.

Cranham, Gloucestershire Human settlement in England

Cranham is a village in the English county of Gloucestershire. Forming part of the district of Stroud it is to be found a mile or so east of the A46 road between Stroud and Cheltenham. The Cotswold Way long-distance footpath also runs nearby.

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen

"Es ist ein Ros entsprungen", is a Christmas carol and Marian Hymn of German origin. It is most commonly translated in English as "Lo, how a rose e'er blooming", and is also called "A Spotless Rose" and "Behold a Rose of Judah". The rose in the German text is a symbolic reference to the Virgin Mary. The hymn makes reference to the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah, which in Christian interpretation foretell the Incarnation of Christ, and to the Tree of Jesse, a traditional symbol of the lineage of Jesus. Because of its prophetic theme, the hymn is popular during the Christian season of Advent.

"For the Beauty of the Earth" is a Christian hymn by Folliott S. Pierpoint (1835-1917).

Gabriels Message Basque Christmas folk carol

"Gabriel's Message" or "The angel Gabriel from heaven came" is a Basque Christmas folk carol about the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary by the archangel Gabriel that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

In dulci jubilo

"In dulci jubilo" is a traditional Christmas carol. In its original setting, the carol is a macaronic text of German and Latin dating from the Middle Ages. Subsequent translations into English, such as J. M. Neale's arrangement "Good Christian Men, Rejoice" have increased its popularity, and Robert Pearsall's 1837 macaronic translation is a mainstay of the Christmas Nine Lessons and Carols repertoire. J. S. Bach's chorale prelude based on the tune is also a traditional postlude for Christmas services.

"See, amid the Winter's Snow", also known as "The Hymn for Christmas", is an English Christmas carol, written by Edward Caswall and first published in 1858. In 1871 Sir John Goss composed a hymn tune for it, "Humility", and as "Hymn for Christmas Day", it was included in Christmas Carols New And Old, the anthology edited by Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer.

The Hymn of Joy

"The Hymn of Joy" is a poem written by Henry van Dyke in 1907 with the intention of musically setting it to the famous "Ode to Joy" melody of the final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's final symphony, Symphony No. 9.

Nevada were a British folk/progressive rock band and a spin-off from Renaissance, featuring Annie Haslam on vocals and Mick Dunford on guitar. Their Christmas single, "In the Bleak Midwinter", reached the lower edges of the UK singles chart in 1983.

Masters in This Hall

"Masters in This Hall" is a Christmas carol with words written around 1860 by the English poet and artist William Morris to an old French dance tune. The carol is moderately popular around the world but has not entered the canon of most popular carols.

Love Came Down at Christmas

"Love Came Down at Christmas" is a Christmas poem by Christina Rossetti. It was first published without a title in Time Flies: A Reading Diary in 1885. It was later included in the collection Verses in 1893 under the title "Christmastide".

A Boy Was Born, Op. 3, is a choral composition by Benjamin Britten. Subtitled Choral variations for men's, women's and boys' voices, unaccompanied , it was originally composed from 1932 to 1933. It was first performed on 23 February 1934 as a BBC broadcast. Britten revised the work in 1955. The composer set different texts related to Christmas to music as theme and variations, scored for an a cappella choir with boys' voices.

Christians, awake, salute the happy morn English Christmas hymn

"Christians, awake, salute the happy morn" is an English Christmas hymn on a text by John Byrom. It is usually sung to the tune "Yorkshire" by John Wainright.

References

  1. Petersen, Randy (2014). Be Still, My Soul: The Inspiring Stories behind 175 of the Most-Loved Hymns. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. p. 145. ISBN   9781414388427 . Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  2. Rossetti, Christina G. (January 1872). "A Christmas Carol". Scribner's Monthly. New York: Scribner & Co. iii (3): 278.
  3. 1 2 "Shnugget: Carols at Cranham". BBC News. 6 January 2009. Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  4. "Bleak Midwinter named best carol". BBC News. 27 November 2008. Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  5. 1 2 Christiansen, Rupert (14 December 2007). "The story behind the carol: In the bleak midwinter". The Daily Telegraph . London. Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  6. The English Hymnal. Oxford University Press. 1916. p. 44.
  7. "In The Bleak Midwinter". Hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
  8. Wooton, Janet (7 January 2013). This Is Our Song: Women's Hymn-Writing. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. p. 143. ISBN   9781620321294.
  9. Galaxy Music Corporation: In the Bleak Midwinter by Harold Darke arr. Ronald Arnatt
  10. "In The Bleak Midwinter - Jacob Collier" . Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  11. "Michael John Trotta's setting", YouTube
  12. Archived 24 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  13. "In the bleak midwinter (Rossetti, set by Harold Edwin Darke, Gustav Holst, Bruce Montgomery, Leonard J[ordan] Lehrman, Michael John Trotta, Mick Swithinbank, Stephen Wilkinson, Benjamin Britten)". Lieder.net. 16 June 2014. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
  14. "What are the lyrics to 'In The Bleak Midwinter' – and which version is better?". Classic FM.
  15. Mitchell, Molli (15 March 2020). "Peaky Blinders: 'In the Bleak Midwinter' secret meaning revealed - why do they say it?". Express.co.uk.
  16. "'The Crown' Series Premiere Recap: Wolferton Splash". 4 November 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  17. "The curious comforts of "In the Bleak Midwinter"". 21 December 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2020 via The Economist.
  18. "Ghosts Series 3: The Beautiful Message of This Adorably Daft Comedy". 12 August 2021. Retrieved 9 September 2021.
  19. "Ghosts: 'The Ghost of Christmas' on BBC". 23 December 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2021.