Bullen, Richard: The Oxen
SATB unaccompanied (with divisions)
Richard Bullen’s ‘dark lullaby’ The Oxen was commissioned by Choir & Organ magazine for the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, and it was featured in the September 2016 issue as part of the New Music series showcasing choral works by young composers. Although lilting rhythms evoke a mood of naivety and innocence, of children gathered in hushed excitement around the fireside on Christmas Eve as pictured in the first verse of Hardy’s well-known poem, there is also an edge to the music that reflects its nostalgic, even bitter content. First published in The Times on 24 December 1915, this seasonal lyric can also be read as a lament for loss of innocence and of the simple urge to faith. We might also find in its reflection on the distance between the ideals of civilisation and its reality, a tragic separation that continues to this day. Part of the subtle resonance of the poem is its conversational manner. Each voice should therefore be phrased flexibly and feelingly in its contribution to the discourse, while the tempi should be judiciously chosen to enhance this overall effect according to the prevailing acoustic.
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