In the bleak midwinter [PDF Download]
Christina Rossetti’s text, the first verse of which we print here, has two popular and lovely settings.
The first is by Harold Darke from 1911, often sung at carol services, and voted the best Christmas carol in 2008 in a poll by leading choral directors.
The second is this simpler hymn-like setting by Gustav Holst, composed for the first edition of The English Hymnal in 1906, edited by his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Holst wrote a beautiful melody, that rises and falls with the text, and some awareness of this shape will help create a musical performance. The dotted notes are as Holst’s original, though it can – perhaps as a first step? – be played with crotchets.
Pupils should play the tune an octave higher when the duet part is added. This matches Holst’s harmony, and creates a calm accompaniment, allowing the pupil to shine in this lovely melody.
Arrangement and teaching content
This piece is really written for the very beginning stages, and is particularly good at getting students to play Middle C with the left hand. With the thumb on D in the right hand, it’s useful for moving away from the Middle C position, and can also be helpful for counting dotted minims and semi-breves.
If your student is able, why not use the dotted crotchet, quaver rhythm alternative? It’s a lovely aural activity to get the student to hear the difference between the two.
David Blackwell & Karen Marshall
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