The original version (for soloist, SSA choir and chamber orchestra) of this cycle of pieces was written for the Epsom Girls’ Grammar School 1991 music tour to Texas and Los Angeles. The soloist on the tour was one of the school’s senior music students: Morag Atchison.
The re-working of the piece was prompted by the 2010 tour to the United Kingdom by the choir Choralation (Westlake Girls’ and Boys’ High Schools) under their conductor Rowan Johnston. One of the choirs’ vocal tutors was Morag Atchison (now a highly regarded soprano soloist and voice teacher) who would be travelling with the choir on tour, and who suggested the cycle. As with the 1991 tour, this tour would be taking place in the weeks preceding Christmas.
The texts all relate to the birth of Christ, and the first is a setting of Christina Rossetti’s well-known “Love Came Down at Christmas”. The opening movement is for the solo soprano with unaccompanied choir. The next movement sets a part of the old German text “Vom himmel hoch” from Klug’s ‘Gesangbuch’ of 1535 under the title “The Angel’s Song”. Here, the music divides between the words of the angels, and the words of children – the latter sung by the treble voices. All join together at the end in praise of God.
The third movement, “Cradle Hymn”, was newly written in 2010, replacing the original third movement. Here, the soloist is featured, in a setting of selected verses from Isaac Watts’ poem of the mother of Christ singing to her new-born baby. Interspersed is a setting for the choir of sections of the well-known Christmas motet “O magnum mysterium”. The fourth movement’s text is by Richard Wilbur and looks forward from the stable of Christ’s birth to future events in his life. Finally there is a shortened return to the music of the first movement.