Sunday, January 06, 2008


Here's my final snippet from the Ralph Vaughan Williams 1954 cantata Hodie. The text, like the second half of yesterday's treasure, comes from the pen of his wife Ursula, who wrote it specifically for this work. The music is uber-dramatic, beginning quietly (though with an unvarying rhythmic pulse kept by the tympani) to signify the Magi coming from a long way away, then rising steadily in volume until reaching a climax at the words "power and glory." Male voices from the chorus dominate. Then, after the Wise Men present their gifts, the music gradually fades as they depart to their exotic native lands.

This whole work is a masterpiece. I glean more from it every year. It deserves to be much better known and more widely performed than it is. I love it.

From kingdoms of wisdom secret and far
Come Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar;
They ride through time, they ride through night
Led by the star’s foretelling light.

Crowning the skies
The star of morning, star of dayspring calls,
Lighting the stable and broken walls
Where the prince lies.

Gold from the veins of the earth he brings,
Red gold to crown the King of kings.
Power and glory here behold
Shut in a talisman of gold.

Frankincense from those dark hands
Was gathered in eastern, sunrise lands,
Incense to burn both night and day
To bear the prayers a priest will say.

Myrrh is a bitter gift for the dead.
Birth but begins the path you tread;
Your way is short, your days foretold
By myrrh, and frankincense and gold.

Return to kingdoms secret and far,
Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar,
Ride through the desert, retrace the night
Leaving the star’s imperial light.

Crowning the skies,
The star of morning, star of dayspring calls:
Clear on the hilltop its sharp radiance falls
Lighting the stable and broken walls
Where the prince lies.

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