Your Daily Dose of Christmas

 British composer Gerald Finzi was not prolific, which can be seen one of two ways: either the world was denied further work of fine quality by his slow process, or his slow process was essential to his work as a composer. Either way, Finzi wrote in a Romantic, English-pastoral vein that reflects influences of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Much of his work is meditative and full of lush harmonies, and his choral writing is outstanding. All of that is on display in In terra pax, one of his last works. Here Finzi combines the text of a poem by Robert Bridges, “Noel: Christmas Eve 1913” with the famous telling of the birth of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke. He gives the words of the poet to a baritone soloist, and the words of the Angel from Luke to a soprano, with the chorus handling the rest. Even though the work starts off hauntingly and quietly, there is drama later on as the dynamic become quite expansive when Luke tells us that the shepherds were “sore afraid”.

Here is the text of the start of Bridges’s poem:

Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis

A frosty Christmas Eve
   when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone
   where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village
   in the water’d valley
Distant music reach’d me
   peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds
   ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above
   with stars was spangled o’er.

In terra pax is a wonderful choral miniature piece, a masterwork by a composer who isn’t heard enough.

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