• John McCabe
  • Christ's Nativity (2014)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • organ
  • SATB double choir
  • 15 min

Programme Note

Henry Vaughan’s poetry seems to resonate in my mind more than that of many of his contemporary poets and I have written a number of Vaughan settings – this is the largest. One of the features of poetry of his period is the use of dialogues, e.g. between Heaven and Hell, or between two characters. This is reflected in the music by the occasional use of pairs of melodic lines. In the decades before writing this setting, I spent a lot of time listening to much early English church music (notably Byrd, Tallis, Tye and Whyte) and this may well have influenced some of the layout of the music, notably the contrapuntal aspects. Christ’s Nativity was commissioned by the Hallé Choir, and is dedicated to the novelist Tim Binding and his wife Celia. I am deeply grateful to the many people who made this a genuine community commission.

© John McCabe, 2014

Awake, glad heart! Get up, and sing,
It is the Birth-day of thy King,
Awake! Awake!
The Sun doth shake
Light from his locks, and all the way
Breathing perfumes, doth spice the day.
Awake, awake! Hark, how the wood rings,
Winds whisper, and the busy springs
A consort make;
Awake, awake!
Man is their high-priest, and should rise
To offer up the sacrifice.
I would I were some bird, or star,
Fluttering in woods, or lifted far
Above the inn
And road of sin!
Then either star, or bird, should be
Shining, or singing still to thee.
I would I had in my best part
Fit rooms for thee! Or that my heart
Were so clean as
Thy manger was!
But I am all filth, and obscene,
Yet, if thou wilt, thou canst make clean.
Sweet Jesu! will then; let no more
This leper haunt, and soil thy door,
Cure him, ease him
O release him!
And let once more by mystic birth
The Lord of life be born in earth.

How kind is heaven to man! If here
One sinner doth amend
Straight there is joy, and every sphere
In music doth contend;
And shall we then no voices lift?
Are mercy, and salvation
Not worth our thanks? Is life a gift
Of no more acceptation?
Shall he that did come down from thence,
And here for us was slain,
Shall he be now cast off? No sense
Of all his woes remain?
Can neither love, nor sufferings bind?
Are we all stone, and earth?
Neither his bloody passions mind,
Nor one day bless his birth?
Alas, my God! Thy birth now here
Must not be numbered in the year.

Henry Vaughan