• Giles Swayne
  • Four Christmas Carols (2005)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • pf
  • SATB
  • 12 min

Programme Note

Starlight (1981) for unison voices and piano
The two Nowells (1999) for unison voices and piano
Joseph's Carol (2003) for unison voices and piano
The Coventry Carol (2005) for SATB & piano

Although these carols were written at various dates and are very different from one another, they have two things in common: they are all quite simple, and they all touch in some way on issues of our time.

Starlight takes a space-age view of the Nativity story, and uses a folksy ballad style to call for global peace. The two Nowells is a revisitation of The First Nowell, but adds a bimillennial gloss in the form of The Second Nowell. This time around, it is poor children (in the spiritual sense) who are lying awake in over-excitement at the prospect of the electronic delights and computer joys of their presents. Considerably shocked by their greed, the angel reminds them that while one half of the world gobbles its goodies, the other begs for crumbs on the desert floor. Old and new Nowells are then brought harmoniously together for the last verse. Joseph’s Carol is the Bethlehem story as related by Joseph to his mates in the pub shortly afterwards. I think of him as a Yorkshireman, but he could be from any place that enjoys blunt speaking and dry wit (performers should feel free to adapt the dialect accordingly). The Coventry Carol is a setting of the medieval mystery-play account of King Herod’s massacre of the innocents; I have tried to capture the savagery of the infanticide thugs, and the anguish of the children’s mothers.

Far too many children are still dying every day from starvation, cruelty, and wicked wars. Christmas is a good time to remember these things.

Giles Swayne
July 2005