Thursday, December 25, 2014

Music and Poetry

Respighi, Britten & Christmas

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.

- Christina Rosetti

What better way to start Christmas day than listening to the music of Respighi and Benjamin Britten? Ottorino Respighi composed his Trittico botticelliano for small orchestra in 1927, inspired by three of Sandro Botticelli's paintings in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. 
Included in this suite is the L'adorazione dei Magi which represents musically the scene captured by Botticelli of the Magi or kings from the East presenting gifts to the new-born Jesus. Included in this beautiful music is the ancient Advent plainchant 'Veni, Veni, Emmanuel', better known today as the hymn 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Along with other evocative tunes including a section reminiscent of Handel's 'Pastoral Symphony' this music is good listening for the Christmas morning.

Benjamin Britten, whose operas I love, composed the choral showpiece A Boy Was Born in 1932-3, when he was only 19 and a student at the Royal College of Music in London. He revised the work in 1955 and it represents an early example of his achievements in the composition of choral works based on an anthology of texts. The music for this group of texts is written for an eight-part choir and an additional part for unison boys' voices. The effect is brilliant as he weaves the music through a theme and set of variations from Jesus' birth to a final Noel. My favorite part is a setting of the hymn by Christina Rosetti, 'In the Bleak Midwinter'.
While the weather outside my apartment is bleak on this Christmas morning the music inside warmed the both the rooms I live in and my soul within.


Lory said...

The Respighi sounds wonderful! Must look for that. My choir is singing the first piece from "A Boy Is Born" in a concert in early January. The rest of it is incredibly difficult, I gather...but I would like to hear a recording. Happy holiday listening!

James said...


Thanks for sharing. I hope you have a great time singing the Britten. You might check on YouTube for a recording of the piece you are planning to sing.

Brian Joseph said...

A belated Merry Christmas James.

Respighi is indeed wonderful music for the holiday.

I am not familier with Britten'swork. I will give it a listen.

Parrish Lantern said...

HI James, hope your festivities went well & almost chose Rosetti's poem for my site so I'm glad that you did

James said...


Britten is worth exploring. His operas are a good place to start; try Peter Grimes or Billy Budd or the Four Sea Interludes: