by Barry Creasy, Chairman, Collegium Musicum of London
Concert poster: Lichfield Cathedral Special Choir
Saint Nicolas, putative Bishop of Myra, is better known to us as Santa Claus. Although he is known to have lived in the fourth century, he is one of those mediæval saints whose existence is more legend than fact. Certain works and miracles performed by him have come down as stories, notably his gift of three bags of gold to three impoverished girls to save them from prostitution (whence the pawnbrokers' symbol of three gold balls); his saving of three innocent men from unjust death and his miraculous restoration to life of three boys slaughtered and pickled in brine during a time of famine (whence his patronage of children).
When, in 1948, Lancing College commissioned Britten to write a piece to celebrate its centenary, it seemed natural to turn to a subject which would have association with children and allow the use of their voices. Eric Crozier, who had already provided Britten with the libretti for The Rape of Lucretia and Albert Herring, provided the text for the work, selecting eight episodes from Nicolas' story, from his prodigious piety at birth to his tranquil death, and added an introductory passage. The original performance (at the Aldeburgh Festival) made use of the choirs of three schools. The piece is scored, in addition, for piano duet, strings, organ and percussion.
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By Barry Creasy, Chairman, Collegium Musicum of London, from British Choirs on the Net library of choral programme notes. If using these copyright free notes you are asked to include the name of the author and to reproduce them 'as is' without addition or reduction.