Time for some sacred music. I feature the first work here, by Ralph Vaughan Williams most years: his Fantasia on Christmas Carols is a well-known work that is heard often in classical music settings this time of year. It’s quite a wonderful work, brining chorus and orchestra together in a lovely way that honors the season. This is music that makes you think of high marble church halls.
Vaughan Williams would later write a cantata called Hodie, centered also on Christmas texts involving the nativity of Jesus. Hodie has never been one of RVW’s most popular works. He wrote it very late in his life, and it was his last major orchestral-choral work.
Hodie (which translates as ‘this day’ and is pronounced ‘HO-dee-ay’) was a product of Vaughan Williams’s old age, but it flows with a vitality, force and inventiveness. Written in 1953-4 and first performed at the Three Choirs Festival in Worchester Cathedral in 1954, it is one of the most serene compositions Vaughan Williams ever wrote, sounding at times otherworldly.
The composer had always wanted to write a large-scale Christmas work, and here he fused the religious spirit of the festival with British overtones, with associations to English countryside carols. Vaughan Williams used no specific folk tunes in this work, but by this point in his career he had so synthesized their character that his folk tune-like themes sound fully authentic.
The texts, taken in this case from the Bible, Milton and Thomas Hardy among other sources, are skilfully selected to reflect both the Christmas theme and the different aspects of the composer’s personal style. The work is linked together by narration of the Nativity from the Gospels by choristers accompanied by organ – a compositional device used by Bach in his Passions, for which Vaughan Williams had a deep love. (via)
As I write this, I am hearing Hodie for the first time. It’s striking me as vibrant at times, serene at others–and quite redolent of the RVW I’ve been listening to for years.