Jerald Thomas Hawhee: Two Rossetti Carols

Publisher | choral music,christmas (sacred),composers,famous poets,mixed | Thursday, July 5th, 2007

Rossetti

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) was an English poet whose words touched not only upon the spiritual (she was a strong high-church Anglican… so much so that she turned down two suitors due to religious differences, breaking her heart in the process), but also on physical beauty and the sublime in nature.

Jerald Thomas Hawhee has set two of her poems as Christmas carols, In the Bleak Midwinter and Love Came Down At Christmas with original music. The composer himself writes himself about his concept of these works available together in Two Rossetti Carols:

I’ve always liked Christina Rossetti’s simple, understated use of imagery. There’s a kind of home-spun quality to the poetry that makes it very immediate and personal, and I tried to convey something of this hearth-like warmth in my settings. Especially in “In the Bleak Midwinter” the harmonies are dense and quite closely written in order to evoke contrasting colors/feelings of isolation and warmth, exultation and humility. Each verse represents a variation on the same theme. The piece begins in a low–almost cramped–register and slowly, verse by verse, different voices take up the theme in their own idiomatic fashion, culminating in the song of the angels; the women (divided into four parts) soaring high into the stratosphere. The final verse brings us down to earth again to look inward and “turn all these things over in our hearts.”

The setting of “Love Came Down At Christmas” is simpler and more straightforward. The contrast between the introspective, personal nature of the holiday versus collective/community worship is highlighted by the use of an alto soloist (who introduces the theme) and the full choir which then takes up the theme and expands upon it. I revised the piece in 2000 to include a modulated section for a solo quartet to play on this dichotomy, create greater contrast and coloristic interest.

Two Rossetti Carols: You can view the first four pages of In the Bleak Midwinter (for SSAATTBB chorus a cappella) by clicking here, and the first three pages of Love Came Down At Christmas (for SATB chorus a cappella) by clicking here.

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