Today’s featured piece is apparently really obscure, and it really shouldn’t be. At all. Ralph Vaughan Williams is one of the most revered British composers of the 20th century, and a lot of his music is not only frequently heard but in the standard repertory. So why is his masque On Christmas Night, a work inspired by Dickens’s A Christmas Carol so unknown? I only discovered it purely by accident last week while listening to one of RVW’s more famous Christmas-themed works. On Christmas Night wasn’t even recorded at all until 2006, when Richard Hickox led the City of London Sinfonia, chorus, and soloists. Googling the piece didn’t turn up much more, and the only in-depth information I was able to find comes from a review on Classical.Net, which I excerpt here:
Michael Kennedy’s standard book on the composer’s life and works doesn’t mention it, except in the catalogue. This is its very first recording. Vaughan Williams called it a “masque,” mainly because he hated the ballet’s dancing on point, and he appropriated Dickens’s “Christmas Carol” as its basis. He also drastically telescoped Dickens’s plot. It’s Vaughan Williams light, but “light” doesn’t mean “slight.”
On Christmas Night is wonderfully dramatic as it traces Dickens’s tale, and as it’s clearly meant to be used for a dance company, RVW alternates between beauty and coldness and drama and austere mystery, with familiar Christmas songs scattered throughout. After playing On Christmas Night through several times over the last week or so, I cannot fathom how it has so completely eluded the concert halls and ballet stages of the world since RVW wrote it in 1926. I hope you enjoy it! Here is On Christmas Night.