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Work

William Walton

William Walton Composer

4 Christmas Carols, for chorus

Performances: 14
Tracks: 21
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Musicology:
  • 4 Christmas Carols, for chorus
    Year: 1931
    Genre: Other Choral
    Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir
William Walton's setting of the Old English carol, Make We Joy Now in this Fest, dates from 1931. Its chronological position is more or less indistinguishable, however, since in this and other renderings of old Christmas texts (including What Cheer?, All This Time, and King Herod and the Cock), he consistently mixed modern harmonies with quasi-archaic textures, thereby muting the character of his own vocabulary.

A lilting triple meter dominates throughout, with iambs (short-long) and trochees (long-short) playfully juxtaposed to convey a sense of both spirited tradition and holiday mirth. Of particular interest in this carol is the curious juxtaposition of English and Latin texts, as in the opening two lines: "Make we joy now in this Fest / In quo Christus natus est [In which Christ is born]." Though Walton makes no musical issue of the linguistic shift, he does set apart the subsequent refrain, "Eya, eya, eya," by rendering it in beautifully flowing, faux-Renaissance polyphony, which contrasts with the solid homophony of the verse texts.

© Jeremy Grimshaw, Rovi

2.What Cheer?

Composed in 1961, William Walton's lively rendering of the carol What Cheer? takes its text from a sixteenth-century tome titled Richard Hill's Commonplace Book. It follows a previous Old English carol setting by Walton, Make We Joy Now in this Fest, by three decades; the elapsed time shows in the slightly more ambitious harmonies and rhythms that characterize the later carol, but the general character is quite similar.

A lively triple meter is employed throughout, which Walton playfully frustrates with frequent syncopations. The rhythmic anticipation that accompanies the refrain, "What cheer? Good Cheer!"—especially the emphasized upbeat—conveys the irresistible anticipation of the holiday; the antiphonal exchange between men's and women's voices is answered by the joyful homophonic texture of the verses. A somewhat ponderous bass line underscores the verses as well, hinting at a minor mode and mood; nonetheless, the ebullient cadence in major that ends each chorus finishes the piece in an unambiguously mirthful character.

© Jeremy Grimshaw, Rovi

4.All This Time

William Walton composed his setting of the sixteenth-century carol "All This Time" in 1970, though the character employed in the piece places it, along with his other Old English carol settings, outside the stream of his already multifaceted compositional style. Although it follows his previous a cappella carol "What Cheer?" by less than a decade, the piece more closely resembles Walton's rendering of "Make We Joy Now in This Fest," from 1931. Both pieces rely on a bouncy triple meter and playfully alternate between iambs (short-long poetic feet) and trochees (long-short feet). Likewise, both carol texts share the curious trait of juxtaposing English and Latin lines. This happens in the chorus of the latter carol: "All this time this song is best/Verbum caro factum est."

"All This Time" articulates its strophic structure in a different way than its predecessors, however. The verses, sung on a unison line that is traded between the men's and women's sections, are separated by a chorus that employs a nearly symmetrical and harmonically rich melody/countermelody texture. This latter element actually begs the unexpected but viable comparison between Walton and mystical Welsh minimalist John Tavener, who utilizes such symmetries extensively in his own carol settings. This textural contrast lends a distinct and engaging character to this brief and bubbly work.

© Jeremy Grimshaw, Rovi
Portions of Content Provided by All Music Guide.
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