Corpus Christi Carol – arrangement of Variation 5 from A boy was born for voice and piano (19 January 1961, Britten aged 47)
Dedication for John Hahessy
Text Anon, 15th century
Background and Critical Reception
This is something of an outtake from Britten’s first big choral work, A Boy Was Born, where he set the Corpus Christi Carol as the fifth variation – in which In the bleak midwinter is also sung. The original text and melody originate from the fifteenth century.
This arrangement for treble voice and piano was made for and recorded by the treble John Hahessy, with Britten at the piano.
Hahessy has an unusual voice for a treble, quite full and capable of a sonorous lower range. This would almost certainly have influenced Britten’s key choice, and the melody is quite low, sung over a softly flowing piano part.
It is rather beautiful in isolation, provided the listening conditions are appropriately hushed. It is also a further illustration of Britten’s enduring love of Christmas, which followed him through his career.
John Hahessy (treble), Benjamin Britten (piano) (Decca)
Hahessy sings with commendable surety of tone and pitch, and Britten accompanies beautifully.
John Hahessy can be heard performing the Corpus Christi Carol with Britten here.
Also written in 1961: Elliott Carter – Double Concerto
Next up: Jubilate in C major