On Air Now
Early Breakfast with Lucy Coward 4am - 6am
1 December 2021, 12:13 | Updated: 22 December 2021, 15:08
Classic FM joins the church to create a stunning new setting of In the Bleak Midwinter, written by one of the country’s top young composers.
Christmas playlists in 2021 have a major new choral addition thanks to The Church of England, who have released a brand new Christmas carol with the hope of ascending the seasonal charts.
The single, a new carol setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem In the Bleak Midwinter, is featured in its #AtTheHeartOfChristmas campaign. The carol’s composer, Rebecca Dale, is one of the country’s most exciting young composers who has been hailed as “a household name in years to come”.
The Church of England describes it as their Christmas single, hoping to take on the popular seasonal challenge of the Christmas charts, and also invite people to experience Christmas music and services at their local church.
The setting was recorded by St Martin’s Voices under the direction of Andrew Earis, in the majestic Baroque church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, in central London.
And on release day, 1 December, the new carol sat at number one on classical music charts.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has also lent his support to the carol and campaign. “Singing carols is a beloved Christmas tradition for so many – so we’re delighted to be sharing this new carol as the national Church of England’s first-ever Christmas single,” he said.
Read more: The 30 greatest Christmas carols of all time
Classic FM spoke to Rebecca Dale about the carol’s journey and the inspiration behind her setting of Rossetti’s beloved poem, whose words have a rich history in English choral music.
“I’ve always loved ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’,” Dale told Classic FM. “I love the poem, I love the Holst version, and the Darke setting as well. They’re both so beautiful.
“I’d been thinking about this a few years ago when I was asked to write a piece for Canterbury Cathedral Girls Choir. I had this idea for a melody for it, but it ended up becoming something else. But I always had it in mind that I wanted to come back and revisit that tune for it to become my version of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’.”
“So when I heard the Church of England and Classic FM were looking for a Christmas carol I leaped at the opportunity to finish the image I always had in my mind around this piece.”
“[Christina Rossetti’s words are] so evocative. The opening verse sets this image of a beautiful waterscape that’s so cold, desolate and bleak, but with a growing warmth.”
Listen here: Classic FM Christmas playlist on Global Player
Dale said she wanted to pay homage to those much-loved Holst and Darke settings of the poem, which she says have inspired the rhythm and flow of the first verse.
The composer adds that she wanted to take the music somewhere new harmonically, saying: “It starts fairly simply harmonically and then you get various clusters and unusual chords creeping in.”
In particular, there’s a moment of soaring sopranos and clustered chords in the verse setting ‘Angels and Arc Angels’ and ‘Cherubim and Seraphim’ in the third verse, as the choir erupts together in a scene of light and joy.
And it’s that joy and togetherness that’s been foremost in the composer’s mind when writing the piece and seeing through this Christmas project.
“I think we’re all due a little joy, really,” she says. “It’s been a very difficult year for a lot of people. When we’re singing, we’re singing together. That’s really what Christmas is about: it’s the coming together.”
Hear Rebecca Dale’s setting of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ for the Church of England, on Classic FM in Alexander Armstrong’s show this December.