It has been a while since I wrote about my favorite Christmas music, and there may be unsuspecting readers who have not yet been thoroughly subjected to my opinions–a situation which clearly cannot be allowed to persist. So, one piece per day for all twelve days of Christmas.
First is Ralph Vaughan Williams seldom-performed cantata Hodie. It is a gorgeous combination of old Latin texts (as in the opening anthem–“Hodie Christus Natus Est”, idiosyncratic arrangements of texts from the mass (“The Blessed Son of God”, for instance, a lullaby interspersed with the text of the Kyrie), the King James version of Luke sung by a boy choir, and magnificent English poetry, including chunks of Milton’s ode, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”, a delicious march of the three kings by Vaughan Williams’ wife, Ursula, and Thomas Hardy’s small, perfect, poem, “The Oxen.”
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen.
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve
“Come; see the oxen kneel
“In the lonely barton by yonder comb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
Some blessed soul has put up a good (though not the VERY best one) recording of the whole piece on youtube. Enjoy!