Music for After Christmas

Xmas Owl

On the Feast of Stephen

The day after Christmas, 26th December, is the “feast of Stephen” mentioned in ‘Good King Wenceslas’. Wenceslas lived in Bohemia, which is now in the Czech Republic. Can you find his capital, Prague, on the map of Eastern Europe? The carol has a well known tune.

Here are the words:

Good King Wenceslas look’d out
on the feast of Stephen,
when the snow lay round about,
deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night,
though the frost was cruel,
when a poor man came in sight,
gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me,
if thou know’st it, telling:
yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence,
underneath the mountain,
right against the forest fence,
by St. Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
bring me pine-logs hither;
thou and I will see him dine,
when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went,
forth they went together,
thro’ the rude wind’s wild lament,
and the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now,
and the wind blows stronger;
fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page,
tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod,
where the snow lay dinted;
heat was in the very sod
which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
ye who now will bless the poor,
shall yourselves find blessing.

British composer Paul Ayres has made an arrangement of it which you can hear on the internet. An arrangement is a version of an existing piece, keeping enough that people can recognise it but changing some things, to fit the available performers or to add things for extra interest. Have a listen to the standard carol as well and see what Paul Ayres has changed. Do you hear the note on “moon”? That is a hint at a style of music called blues. You might also notice that the rhythm has changed a bit. Do you hear the piano when “the night is colder”. Does it make you think of shivering? Then in the last verse there is some clever writing, called a canon, where two parts sing the same tune but starting slightly apart so the music overlaps.

Listen here: Paul Ayres.