First performance: Kelvedon Singers, Chris Phelps, 11.12.11, St Peter’s Church, Wakes Colne, Essex
Listen to The Snow in the Street by Alan Charlton, performed by the Brussels Chamber Choir, conducted by Helen Cassano, from the album Cloud and Mirrors.
This work was commissioned and first performed by The Kelvedon Singers, conducted by Christopher Phelps, on 11th December 2011 in Wakes Colne, Essex. The text is taken from The Earthly Paradise, a collection of poems by the London-born poet, textile designer and prominent member of the English Arts and Crafts movement William Morris (1834-1896). The poem tells of some travellers (‘outlanders’) calling on a household on a snowy winter’s evening and recounting how, when they were in a foreign land, they met three shepherds who described the scene of the nativity. A wintry refrain (“The snow in the street and the wind on the door”) runs throughout, evoking a Christmassy mood.
Charlton’s setting is in a lilting triple time, based on the infectious, dance-like rhythm of the words of the refrain. Starting quietly and mysteriously, the music builds up and grows in excitement as the travellers’ tale unfolds. In the central section of the piece, three male soloists, representing the shepherds, sing in alternation with the rest of the choir, culminating in a joyous climax for the whole choir (‘News of a fair and marvellous thing’) before the music subsides and returns to the mysterious mood of the opening. In 2016, Charlton revised and shortened the original version for the Brussels Chamber Choir, which performed its Belgian premiere at a Christmas concert in the Brussels Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula on September 6th 2016.
William Morris (1834-1896): The Snow in the Street (1865-1870)
The snow in the street and the wind on the door.
Minstrels and maids, stand forth on the floor.
Outlanders, whence come ye last?
Through what green seas and great have ye past?
From far away, O masters mine,
We come to bear you goodly wine:
From far away we come to you,
To tell of great tidings strange and true:
News, news of the Trinity,
And Mary and Joseph from over the sea:
For as we wandered far and wide,
What hap do you deem there should us betide?
Under a bent when the night was deep,
There lay three shepherds tending their sheep:
O ye shepherds, what have ye seen,
To slay your sorrow and heal your teen?
In an ox-stall this night we saw,
A Babe and a maid without a flaw.
There was an old man there beside,
His hair was white, and his hood was wide.
And as we gazed this thing upon,
Those twain knelt down to the Little One.
And a marvellous song we straight did hear,
That slew our sorrow and healed our care.
News of a fair and a marvellous thing,
Nowell, nowell, nowell, we sing!