A Feast of Carols

Listen Here

Movt. 3

Movt. 4

Movt. 5

Price: $3.75 per copy (choral score)

A Feast of Carols

SATB chorus/brass quintet (tpt 1, tpt 2, hrn, tbn. tba)

Duration: 12 minutes 45 seconds

Text: Old English

Premiere: December. 1988, Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale and Brass Ensemble, North Chili, New York, Robert Shewan, conductor

European Premiere: December, 1994, Vrije Univeriteit Amsterdam Choir, Amsterdam, Holland

I. Now is Christmas y-come (3:34)

II. I heard a mess of merry shepherds sing (2:23)

III. In Bethlehem, that fair city (2:26)

IV. This time is born our Saviour (2:38)

V. When Christ was born of Mary free (1:49)

I have always had a fondness for Christmas music and in 1987 thought it was time to try my hand at it. I was definitely inspired by Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols and Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata. I found some ancient Christmas carol lyrics in an old musty book entitled Ancient English Carols MCCCC to MDCC collected and arranged by Edith Rickert. Five of those old-English texts were given new life.

The first carol which uses the full ensemble of soloists, chorus and brass quintet, describes the arrival of a “child so fair in sight and the visit of the three wise men.

The second carol features the four part women’s semi-chorus, in which the joy of the news told to the shepherds is contrasted with the sadness of humanity’s fall from grace and the baby’s birth in a humble stable among livestock.

The third movement alternates light, bouncy music and English text in the verse and lyrical flowing music and Latin text in the refrain. “As the sun shineth in the glass, so Jesus of His Mother born was”—here the seemingly commonplace events of the first Christmas are revealed as part of God’s mysterious plan: “O lux beata Trinitas.” (O light of the blessed trinity.”)

The fourth carol takes the form of an antiphon between the baritone cantor, supported by chordal brass imitative of tolling church bells, and the men’s chorus, responding with the phrase, “God who is our Saviour.” The middle section combines the full men’s chorus, brass and a melismatic French horn solo to depict the first adoration as the shepherd’s hear the message from the angels.

The last movement employs jazz rhythms and verse form to illustrate the words, “When Christ was born of Mary free.” It starts with one voice, the soprano and with each succeeding verse adds a voice-part. Similarly, the brass begins with trumpets in the jazz rhythm and trombone in a simple accompaniment figure, adding a new instrument on the rhythm at each verse. The full ensemble builds to a fortissimo conclusion on the refrain “In excelsis Gloria!”

This was the first of my pieces to appear on a record label BAY CITIES 1022. They even spelled my first name wrong (Stephan!). Today you may purchase it on the ALBANY record label TROY 149. To this day, it is one of my favorite compositionsJ.

Purchase this CD: Music of Stephen Shewan Albany Records TROY 149