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The First Mercyfor mixed voices (SATB) & piano
Text: English (Bruce Blunt)
Duration: 3 minutes
Difficulty: 3/5
Use: Christmas

The First Mercy (1926) was originally a solo song and an early collaboration between Peter Warlock and Bruce Blunt, with whom he would soon after write perhaps his best-known choral work, Bethlehem Down. Warlock arranged the carol for upper voices (SSA) & piano in 1927 (available to buy here) but it was not until 1964 that the carol was arranged by Geoffry Russell-Smith for mixed voices & piano. That arrangement is here restored to print in a newly-prepared edition.

"In a lilting 6/8 it is instantly recognisable as Warlock's – it has a folk-song-like feel, with expressive modulations and satisfying interest in all the parts. This is good to have back in an admirably clear edition and is well within the reach of a regular parish church choir." (Francis O'Gorman, Organists' Review, June 2016)

Ox and ass at Bethlehem,
On a night, ye know of them,
We were only creatures small,
Hid by shadows on the wall.

We were swallow, moth and mouse;
The Child was born in our house,
And the bright eyes of us three
Peeped at His nativity.

Hands of peace upon that place
Hushed our beings for a space.
Quiet feet and folded wing,
Nor a sound of anything.

With a moving star we crept
Closer when the Baby slept;
Men who guarded where He lay
Moved to frighten us away.

But the Babe, awakened, laid
Love on things that were afraid;
With so sweet a gesture He
Called us to His company.

Bruce Blunt

Peter Warlock
A leading light of the early twentieth century’s so called English Musical Renaissance, the critic Philip Heseltine, who composed under the pseudonym Peter Warlock, was part of an intimate yet diverse artistic circle that included D H Lawrence, Aldous Huxley and Jacob Epstein in addition to musicians and scholars such as Elizabeth Poston and school friend Frederick Delius. Heseltine’s enduring interest in Elizabethan music and sixteenth century polyphony was self-developed following a brief period working as a critic for the Daily Mail in 1915 and remained a considerable influence throughout his original musical works.

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