Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Harold Edwin Darke

Dr. Darke (1888 - 1977), composer of the songs Infant Joy and The Shepherd, chose one of the most popular Christmas Nativity poems of the late nineteenth century, written by Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830 - 1894) as the text for this delightful anthem-setting, published in 1911 by Stainer and Bell Ltd. Christina Rossetti also authored other carols, such as Love came down at Christmas (to date, set by 6 different composers) and The shepherds had an angel (set to a tune by Imogen Holst, daughter of Gustav Holst). Rossetti's words for In the bleak mid-winter were also set to Gustav Holst's beautiful and moving tune Cranham (Oxford Book of Carols 187), unjustly regarded by some as difficult to sing because of an "irregular" rhythm which adapts itself to the extra words and syllables. There is also a modern setting of the poem for solo voice and piano by Mary E. Caldwell.

Curiously, both the Darke and the Holst settings have the same arching form and exactly the same rhythm for the initial line, but employ different notes and harmony: Darke's melody begins on the tonic, then moodily descends to the flat seventh and resolves on the word "win-ter;" Holst begins his tune on the major third and his "winter" descent is more conventional. In general, Darke's introspective melody is the more interesting of the two because of its atmosphere, elasticity, use of unusual non-chordal tones and interval leaps, and finesse in the employment of anticipations (for example, the chords slowly catch up with the notes of "manger-full of hay").

Displaying a bit of post-Victorian squeamishness, Darke's version amends the third verse couplet "A breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay" to read "A heart full of mirth, and a manger-full of hay."