Hodie - Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 - 1958)

Hodie (which translates as 'this day' and is pronounced 'HO-dee-ay') was a product of Vaughan Williams's old age, but it flows with a vitality, force and inventiveness. Written in 1953-4 and first performed at the Three Choirs Festival in Worchester Cathedral in 1954, it is one of the most serene compositions Vaughan Williams ever wrote, sounding at times otherworldly.

The composer had always wanted to write a large-scale Christmas work, and here he fused the religious spirit of the festival with British overtones, with associations to English countryside carols. Vaughan Williams used no specific folk tunes in this work, but by this point in his career he had so synthesized their character that his folk tune-like themes sound fully authentic.

The texts, taken in this case from the Bible, Milton and Thomas Hardy among other sources, are skilfully selected to reflect both the Christmas theme and the different aspects of the composer's personal style. The work is linked together by narration of the Nativity from the Gospels by choristers accompanied by organ - a compositional device used by Bach in his Passions, for which Vaughan Williams had a deep love.
I. Prologue: Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!
From the Vespers for Christmas Day
A lively, syncopated chorus, heralded by a brass fanfare. The composer joked that if he had known he was going to conduct it, he would have made the rhythms easier!

II. Narration: Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise…
From Matthew I, 18-21 and Luke I, 32
Sung first by the girl sopranos, then by the tenor representing the angel. The full impact of his message to Joseph is marked by the sudden eruption of fanfares and chorus.

III. Song
From Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity, Milton
The gentleness of Milton's words is matched by a pastoral soprano solo, later enhanced by ladies' voices.

IV. Narration: And it came to pass…
From Luke II, 1-7

V. Choral: The blessed son of God only
Miles Coverdale, after Martin Luther
An unaccompanied hymn, perhaps called Choral because its words are a translation of one of Luther's chorales in Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

VI. Narration: And there were in the same country shepherds…
Adapted from Luke II, 8-17 and the Book of Common Prayer

VII. Song: The Oxen
Thomas Hardy
The baritone solo is permeated by a 'kneeling' motif in the orchestra.

VIII. Narration: And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God…
From Luke II, 20

IX. Pastoral: The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
George Herbert
The baritone solo makes explicit reference to the shepherds, whose song we join in our hearts.
X. Narration: But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
From Luke I, 19

XI. Lullaby: Sweet was the song the Virgin sang
W. Ballet
The soprano soloist is joined by the ladies' voices.

XII. Hymn: Bright portals of the sky
William Drummond
An extensive tenor solo with a large climax.

XIII. Narration: Now when Jesus was born, behold, there came wise men…
Adapted from Matthew II, 1, 2 and 11


XIV. The March of the Three Kings
Ursula Vaughan Williams
The movement develops to involve all the singers and, especially, the orchestra.

XV. Choral: No sad thought his soul affright
Anon and Ursula Vaughan Williams
A reflective hymn, in the manner of the chorales in Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

XVI. Epilogue: In the beginning was the Word
Adapted from John I, 1-14
The closing movement brings together many motifs and does so triumphantly. Ring out, ye Crystal Spheres is from Milton's Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity.

 Aylesbury Choral Society



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