for mixed choir (SATB div) & organ
Text: English (15th–17th century)
This little piece was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge in 2002 as the then-latest in their celebrated annual Christmastide service of Nine Lessons & Carols for their unique Chapel; it is dedicated to the choir & its director Stephen Cleobury. ‘Little’, but already a mini-cantata telling the start of the familiar story – Gabriel’s Annunciation; praise to the Virgin before she too sings ‘my soul doth magnify the Lord’: the shepherds a-watching their flocks by night; the angelic chorus in the sky; the fusion of celestial & earthy around the crib holding the baby who is also “lord of Time & Space”. Here we stop, for now. In fact this is only the first panel of a Christmas Sequence that continues and concludes the whole tale.
Seeking out unhackneyed texts, I found such attractive material in the byways that I couldn’t resist weaving together from it a composite tapestry, then setting the lot! The words of this section are from the Gospel account, anonymous carols of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, Edmund Bolton (1611, “Sweet music, sweeter far...”), the Gloria from the Mass, a couple of lines from well-loved Anglican Christmas hymns; with neutral link-lines of my own. The music, also, has elements of such wider referencing, which will surely not be lost on the attentive hearer!
Robin Holloway sang as a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral and studied composition with Alexander Goehr as a teenager. He was a lecturer in music at Cambridge University for 32 years between 1975 and 2011, teaching several generations of composers including Judith Weir and Thomas Adés. Starting from a modernist stance typical of the 1960s, Holloway’s studies of language, style and quotation for his doctoral thesis Debussy and Wagner led to a radical liaison with Romanticism and tonality in his compositions from the 1970s onwards. Major scores such as Scenes from Schumann, the Second Concerto for Orchestra and the opera Clarissa fuse these two strands. Holloway has regularly returned to his choral roots, both in large-scale works with orchestra such as Sea-Surface Full of Clouds and The Spacious Firmament, pieces for smaller forces including the Missa Caiensis, Hymn to the Senses and Christmas Sequence, and a range of anthems and canticles.