program notes by composition > I > In the Bleak Midwinter

In the Bleak Midwinter

Gustav Holst, arr. Robert W. Smith

In the Bleak Midwinter is a Christmas carol based on a poem by Christina Rossetti. The poem became a Christmas carol after it appeared in The English Hymnal in 1906 with a musical setting by Gustav Holst.

Gustav Holst (1874 – 1934) was an English composer, arranger and teacher. He began composing when he was about twelve. He served as a church organist and choirmaster. When neuritis in his hand forced him away from the keyboard he made a living as an orchestral trombonist before attaining success as a composer.

Robert W. Smith scored this arrangement of Holst’s second movement in memory of his mother-in-law Alta Sue Hawkins who had been a clarinet player and band director. After an opening fanfare the melody is stated by a solo clarinet representing Ms. Hawkins. The clarinet is joined by a French horn, euphonium and a second French horn representing her three children on their chosen instruments. The American folk melody “Shenandoah” is used as the contrapuntal line representing Ms. Hawkins’ birth and rest in the beautiful valley of Virginia.

Last updated on December 26, 2013 by Palatine Concert Band