Thursday, December 20, 2012

December 21

Bethlehem Down
music by Peter Warlock, with words by Bruce Blunt, 
and performed by Polyphony

"When He is King we will give Him a King's gifts,
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes", said the young girl to Joseph,
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.

Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight,
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold,
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music,
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

When He is King they will clothe Him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary,
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down

Here He has peace and a short while for dreaming,
Close-huddled oxen to keep him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music,
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem Down.

This is a haunting, gorgeous carol by Philip Arnold Heseltine, who was best known as the Anglo-Welsh composer, Peter Warlock (1894–1930). For his text, he used a poem written by journalist and poet Bruce Blunt (1899–1957).

I find the story behind this, one of my favourite carols, to be almost impossible to believe-- it comes close to spoiling my enjoyment!! I have learned that Warlock wrote it to finance an "immortal carouse" (a heavy bout of drinking) on Christmas Eve, 1927, for himself and Blunt, who were experiencing financial difficulty. The pair submitted the carol to the Daily Telegraph's annual Christmas carol contest... and won. Necessity being the mother of invention, it must have been a very happy Christmas, after all.

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