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In the Bleak Midwinter
Christmas Carol: In the Bleak Midwinter
It seems there is no other traditional Christmas carol that makes me feel more emotional about the holiday season than In the Bleak Midwinter.
While it has a mournful air, the words to the tune speak to me in a way that no other carol does. I believe it is the most beautifully written and meaningful Christmas piece ever. For someone who is not overly religious, that is a big statement.
The words, which were originally a poem, speak of hope and peace and give pause for inner contemplation. To me, that is what the Christmas season is all about.
In the Bleak Midwinter seems to be one of those Christmas carols you do not hear so often now. I may be (and hope) that I'm wrong, because its significance is as important today as when the words were put to paper back in the nineteenth century.
Holst and Darke: In the Bleak Midwinter
The Most Famous Versions
The words to In the Bleak Midwinter are from a poem by Christina Rossetti, which was written in England in the mid to late nineteenth century. It was adapted as a Christmas carol, initially by Gustav Holst, in 1906. While the poem has been set to music many times since, the most well-known versions are by Holst and later, Harold Darke.
Darke's version was written three years after that of Holst's, while he was studying at the Royal College of Music. The melody is different and offers sections for soprano and tenor solos. Cathedral choirs tend to sing this as their preferred version, but my personal preference is for the one written by Holst.
I've included several video interpretations here of In the Bleak Midwinter, from classical crossover to the traditional choral church setting.
1. In the bleak midwinter, 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 midwinter, long ago. 2. Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. 3. Angels and archangels may have gathered there, cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, worshiped the beloved with a kiss. 4. 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. Text: Christina G. Rossetti, 1830-1894 Music: Gustav Holst, 1874-1934
The Philharmonia Orchestra - Tenor: Will Martin
A Winter Symphony - From Sarah Brightman
Her version of In the Bleak Midwinter is here, along with Silent Night, Ave Maria, Child in a Manger and Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas and many more.
Sarah Brightman - From the Album: A Winter Symphony
A Christmas Cornucopia - From Annie Lennox
As well as carols such as The First Noel, Silent Night and, of course, In the Bleak Midwinter, she includes a new composition, Universal Child.
Annie Lennox - From the Album: A Christmas Cornucopia
In the Bleak Midwinter: The Choral Interpretations - Versions by Holst and Darke
In the first of these two videos the Gloucester Cathedral Choir sing the Gustav Holst version of the Christmas carol, while in the second Kings College Choir, Cambridge sings the Darke composition.
Which Version of In the Bleak Midwinter? - What's Your Opinion?
Which melody do you prefer?
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