Sparey: Christmas Bells

Thursday 25 May 2017
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Carolyn Sparey: Christmas Bells

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Carolyn Sparey has composed this lovely setting of Longfellow's 'Christmas Bells' for choir and piano.
Commisioned by Keswick Choral Society (Ian Hare, conductor).
SATB choir and piano

Difficulty level: ** (out of *****)
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Notes on the piece

This piece has been commissioned by Keswick Choral Society, and received its first performance at their Christmas concert at Crosthwaite Church, Keswick on Thursday 16 December 2010, conducted by Ian Hare.

The concert programme was as follows:

MAGNIFICAT Pergolesi
CHRISTMAS BELLS Carolyn Sparey
O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM Morten Laurisden
Messiah (excerpts)
Carols for choir and audience

About the text

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) wrote this text during the American Civil War, on Christmas Day 1863, only six months after the Battle of Gettysberg where over 40,000 soldiers lost their lives.

It was a personal response to both the horror of the terrible conflict dividing his nation and a double personal pain: his wife had recently died in a fire, and his son, Lieutenant Charles Appleton Longfellow, had been seriously wounded in November 1862.

Yet despite the awful context of the poem's origin, the ringing of the Christmas bells helped him celebrate his conviction that God and humankind can unite in working for a better world, in which there will be a lasting "peace for men".

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The text

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Till, ringing, singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

 

Text adapted by John B. Calkin
from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem.

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