Saint Nicolas: A Cantata, op 42

Selected Text

Music by Benjamin Britten
Text by Eric Crozier

Christ Church Cathedral Britten CD
Audio files from Christ Church Cathedral
Indianapolis, Indiana
Purchase from Christ Church Cathedral Choir CDs

This is a wonderful little cantata, composed for the 1948 Centenary Celebrations of Lancing College, Sussex, as St. Nicolas is the patron saint of children and the co-patron of Lancing College.

Here is the text from three of the nine movements.

V. Nicolas comes to Myra and is chosen Bishop

Come, stranger sent from God!
Come, man of God!
Stand foremost in our Church, and serve this diocese,
As Bishop Nicolas, our shield, our strength, our peace!

I Nicolas, Bishop of Myra and its diocese,
Shall with the unfailing grace of God,
Defend his faithful servants,
Comfort the widow and fatherless,
And fulfil His will for this most blessed Church.

Place the mitre on your head to show your mastery of men!
Take the golden robe that covers you with Christ's authority!
Wear the fine dalmatic woven with the Cross of Faith.
Bear the crozier as a staff and comfort to your flock!
Set the ring upon your hand in sacramental sign of wedlock with thy God!
Serve the Faith and spurn His enemies!

All people that on earth do dwell
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice!
Him serve with fear
His praise forth tell,
come ye before Him and rejoice.

O enter then His gates with praise
Approach with joy His courts unto,
Praise, laud and bless His name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? The Lord our God is good:
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure. Amen.

Britten Record cover

VIII. His Piety and Marvelous Works

For forty years our Nicolas,
Our Prince of men, our shepherd and
Our gentle guide, walked by our side.
We turned to him at birth and death,
In time of famine and distress,
In all our grief, to bring relief.
He led us from the valleys to
The pleasant hills of grace. He fought
To fold us in from mortal sin.
O! he was prodigal of love!
A spendthrift in devotion to
Us all and blessed as he caressed.
We keep his memory alive in legends that our children and
Their children's children treasure still.

A captive at the heathen court
Wept sorely all alone.
"O Nicolas is here, my son!
and he will bring you home!"

"Fill, fill my sack with corn," he said:
"We die from lack of food!"
And from that single sack he fed
A hungry multitude.

Three daughters of a nobleman
Were doomed to shameful sin,
Till our good Bishop ransomed them
By throwing purses in.

The gates were barred, the black flag flew,
Three men knelt by the block,
But Nicolas burst in like flame,
And stayed the axe's shock!

"O help us, good Nicolas!
Our ship is full of foam!"
He walked across the waves to them
And led them safely home.

He sat among the Bishops who were summoned to Nicaea:
Then rising with the wrath of God
Boxed Arius's ear.

He threatened Constantine the Great
With bell and book and ban:
Till Constantine confessed his sins
Like any common man.

Let the legends that we tell,
Praise him with our prayers as well.
We keep his memory alive
In legends that our children and
Their children's children treasure still.

Britten Record cover

IX. The Death of Nicolas

A Hymn for Choirs and Congregation

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Overview of Cantata Text from St. Mark's Players, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C. with complete audio files
Audio (only) from London
Program Notes I, II, III, IV, V, VI

Discovering Music: Britten: Saint Nicolas
Stephen Johnson, for BBC Radio, explores Britten's first major work for children's chorus with both amateur and professional performers, revealing Britten's passion to make music accessible and meaningful for everyone. 22 minutes.
Benjamin Britten: A Biography

CD Cover

Audio files from SAINT NICOLAS: A Cantata, op 42
Music by Benjamin Britten, Text by Eric Crozier
Joseph Frank, Nicolas the man; William Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Nicolas the boy; Brian-Paul Thomas, organist; Andrew DuBois, Adam Stockton, Bruce White, as the pickled boys; the Christ Church Cathedral of Men and Boys, the Cathedral Girls' Choir, the Indianapolis Festival Orchestra; Frederick Burgomaster, Conductor. Copyright © 1987 Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis. Used by permission.
Purchase from Christ Church Cathedral Choir CDs

Text from SAINT NICOLAS: A Cantata, op 42
Music by Benjamin Britten, Text by Eric Crozier
Copyright © 1948 Boosey & Company, Ltd. Excerpts used by permission.
The complete work is available from Boosey & Hawkes, Ltd.

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