In the Bleak Midwinter

Few readers will be unfamiliar with ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. However those who come along to our upcoming concert in Strathaven on 3rd December (click for details) may be surprised, and, I hope, delighted, to hear our rendition of the Chris Hutchings’ setting. Not simply a new arrangement of the well known melody, rather a completely distinct and rather haunting air. Do I detect a celtic connection? You can judge for yourself in just over a fortnight’s time at the Scout and Guide Centre in the heart of Strathaven.

Read a little more about Chris Hutchings below, but first a race through the history of this well loved carol:

In the Bleak Midwinter first appeared in the January 1872 edition of Scribner’s Monthly, an American ‘literary periodical’ under the title ‘A Christmas Carol’. Written by English poet Christina Rossetti, it was first set to music in 1906 by Gustav Holst, with a more complex version by Harold Darke appearing just five years later. In a 2008 poll of the world’s leading choirmasters* Darke’s version was named ‘the best Christmas carol’. A sense of early twentieth century mores is suggested by Darke’s replacing Rossetti’s line ‘a breastful of milk’ with ‘a heart full of mirth’. Rossetti’s words have been reinstated by subsequent generations.

Throughout the years at least six more composers have produced settings of the Rossetti poem, in whole or in part, Benjamin Britten being perhaps the best known name among them.

Most years, In the Bleak Midwinter features somewhere in popular culture: in 2014 the ASPCA (American SPCA) used it in a fundraising campaign with visuals of neglected dogs and cats living outdoors in atrocious weather; Dr Who has included it in a Christmas Special, but its most traditional annual appearance remains the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols.

Chris Hutchings

Chris is Edinburgh based and his new setting of the Rossetti poem was written in 2012. His website reveals an impressive range of compositions including a substantial body of works for choirs. Gaelic poetry and song feature in his works and Chris actively promotes ‘Choirs Against Racism’ .

Find out more about Chris at or read about his approach to composition in this Creative Scotland interview.

*BBC Music Magazine polled 51 directors of music in the UK and USA

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